M.R. Nieuwenstein, T. Wirenga, R.D. Morey, J.M. Wichers, T.N. Blom, E. Wagenmakers, and H. vanRijn
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 2015, pp. 1-17
Are difficult decisions best made after a momentary diversion of thought? Previous research addressing this important question has yielded dozens of experiments in which participants were asked to choose the best of several options (e.g., cars or apartments) either after conscious deliberation, or after a momentary diversion of thought induced by an unrelated task. The results of these studies were mixed. Some found that participants who had first performed the unrelated task were more likely to choose the best option, whereas others found no evidence for this so-called unconscious thought advantage (UTA). The current study examined two accounts of this inconsistency in previous findings. According to the reliability account, the UTA does not exist and previous reports of this effect concern nothing but spurious effects obtained with an unreliable paradigm. In contrast, the moderator account proposes that the UTA is a real effect that occurs only when certain conditions are met in the choice task. To test these accounts, we conducted a meta-analysis and a large-scale replication study (N = 399) that met the conditions deemed optimal for replicating the UTA. Consistent with the reliability account, the large-scale replication study yielded no evidence for the UTA, and the meta-analysis showed that previous reports of the UTA were confined to underpowered studies that used relatively small sample sizes. Furthermore, the results of the large-scale study also dispelled the recent suggestion that the UTA might be gender-specific. Accordingly, we conclude that there exists no reliable support for the claim that a momentary diversion of thought leads to better decision making than a period of deliberation.
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