A new study published in the journal Emotion shows that we tend to see our gut-based decisions as truer reflections of ourselves and are more likely to hold them with greater conviction than decisions we make through careful deliberation.
“We offer what we believe to be a novel and unique approach to the question of why people come to hold certain attitudes,” said lead researcher Sam Maglio, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
“Focusing on feelings as opposed to logic in the decision-making process led participants to hold more certain attitudes toward and advocate more strongly for their choices.”
The researchers conducted four experiments involving more than 450 participants. In each experiment, participants had to choose from a selection of similar items, such as different DVD players, mugs, apartments or restaurants. In each scenario, participants were specifically asked to make their decision either in a deliberative, logical manner or in an intuitive, gut-based one. Then they were questioned about their choice.
Participants who were told to make an intuitive, gut-based decision were more likely to say that the decision reflected their true selves. They were also more certain of their gut-based choices and more likely to advocate for them.
For example, participants were asked to choose between two different restaurants, again based either on intuition or deliberation, and were then asked to announce their choice by emailing their decision to their friends. Those who picked a restaurant intuitively shared their choice with more people.
“This suggests that focusing on feelings doesn’t just change attitudes — it can change behavior, too,” said Maglio.
One surprising finding was how willing people were to make an intuitive, gut-based decision when instructed. “So much folk wisdom says that we should eschew intuition because careful deliberation is thought to be the surest path to good choices, but we can’t escape our gut feelings,” he said.
“In making decisions, people must decide not only what to choose, but how to choose it,” said Maglio. “Our research suggests that individuals focusing on their feelings in decision-making do indeed come to see their chosen options as more consistent with what is essential, true and unwavering about themselves.”
But the certainty that comes with making a gut-based choice rather than a logical one can be a double-edged sword, said Maglio. For example, if a person chooses an exercise program (e.g., cycling) based on feelings, he or she may be more likely to stick to it.
On the other hand, making gut-based decisions in today’s polarized political climate may not be conducive to a functioning democracy.
“When digging our heels in is a good thing, like making sure we hop on the bike every day, there’s little downside and a lot of benefit. But dug-in heels give way to stubbornness and isolationism in the blink of an eye,” said Maglio.
“When our political attitudes are made intuitively and make us certain that we’re right, we shut ourselves off from the possibility that we might be even a little bit wrong. For this reason, perhaps a bit of the openness facilitated by deliberation isn’t a bad thing after all.”
Maglio conducted the study with co-author Taly Reich, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at Yale University.