Following Your Gut
The Business of Life has a great post about the differences between how people make difficult life decisions and simpler decisions. She quotes from a study summary (the report itself is behind a subscription wall):
"However, as the decisions become complex (more expensive items with many characteristics, such as cars), better decisions and happier ones come from not attending to the choices but allowing one's unconscious to sift through the many permutations for the optimal combination."This Boston Globe article fleshes out some of the ideas in the paper:
"The results, Dijksterhuis said, underscored flaws in conscious decision-making. A person can pay attention to only a limited amount of information at once, which can lead people to focus on just a few factors and lose the bigger picture. The unconscious is better, he said, at integrating large amounts of information.This is fascinating lifestylism stuff. I might add my own theory to the discussion: most of us just don't have good skills or tools to help us make these more complex, holistic lifestyle decisions. I don't think it has much to do with how our brains are wired -- with better tools, I think complex decision-making that takes the big-picture (aligning with values, cascading effects throughout your life) view can be learned.
Another flaw, he said, is what he called a 'weighing problem.' The conscious mind can weigh some factors too heavily, and discount others that are important.
For example, when people buy a house, they tend to put too much emphasis on its size, and not enough on their commute every day, he said. When working through a decision consciously, the mind has a tendency to focus on factors that are easy to articulate -- like the number of square feet -- at the expense of other factors that are hard to put into words."