Subconscious - Decision Making
Most experts believe the majority of decisions occur in the subconscious mind, though complex decisions often show multiple factors (conscious and subconscious) at work. Subconscious decisions have shown to be both more effective in some cases, and less sound when emotions or issues with self-awareness come into play. Risk preferences appear to be born in the subconscious, while distractions during decision-making can improve decision-making efforts in one’s subconscious.
INSIGHT: Some Experts Believe 95% of Decision-Making Happens in the Subconscious
- Research from Goldsmiths’ College (London) and the University of Houston showed that a person’s brain actually solves a problem (or makes a decision) “up to eight seconds” before the person is aware of it. The research highlighted what researchers called the “transformational thought” – which determines the decision (or solution) and occurs before the person is consciously aware of the determination.
- The basis of this research stems from the 1980s research of Benjamin Libet at the University of California, San Francisco, who proved that simple decisions were made “about three-tenths of a second before the brain owner is aware of them,” and that the “roots of such decisions can be seen up to ten seconds before they become conscious.”
- The Wellness Universe details multiple studies that have proven a person’s subconscious mind makes decisions then informs the conscious mind of those decisions, including the clock-face study and the portrait study.
- In research published in 2012, Daum asserted that “people make tens of thousands of decisions daily, many of which are subconscious.” Sahakian & Labuzetta’s 2013 research backed this up – that most decisions are made “at varying levels of consciousness, or sub-consciousness.”
INSIGHT: Subconscious Decisions Are More Sound than Conscious Decisions
- Choice Compass outlines how it has become “universally accepted that the subconscious mind impacts many of our cognitive process,” and that the subconscious mind is “a better judge than the conscious mind when two or more options are presented.” This also demonstrates that, while most people believe their choices are made from their rational (or conscious minds), decisions “are predominantly governed by subconscious mechanisms.”
INSIGHT: Distractions Help the Subconscious Make Better Decisions
- A Carnegie Mellon University study showed that people who were provided with an unrelated distraction made better decisions overall. The research used neuroimaging to prove that the prefrontal cortices of people given information about a decision activated – and stayed activated during the unrelated distractor task, “even though the brain was consciously focused on” the task at-hand.
- The results of their research showed that those given the unrelated task were still processing the determinants of the decision during the other activity - and that they ultimately made sounder decisions than those not provided the distraction (and whose sole focus was conscious decision-making).
- Multiple experiments from Dutch psychology expert Ap Dijksterhuis proved that people “who had the time for their subconscious minds to analyze the options while they were otherwise engaged, made the most accurate selections” in a decision-making dilemma.
INSIGHT: Emotions Play a Major Role in Decision-Making
- Emotions, run by the subconscious, have been shown to “play a dominant role in decision-making” by research conducted in 2012 by Schore. Additionally, LeDoux’s 2015 research demonstrated that “while conscious control over emotions is weak, emotions can flood consciousness,” and significantly affect decision-making.
- Since the subconscious is the part of the brain that responds to “conditions, emotions, images, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch,” it can act on reflex triggers, which influences decision-making.
INSIGHT: Lack of Self-Awareness Can Lead to Poor Decisions
- Social scientists, like Kiverstein in 2012, demonstrated that people are “quite ignorant of their motivations,” and that their reasoning minds fill in this information later “without insight or self-awareness”. This lack of self-awareness can lead to poor decision-making, and often self-defeating behaviors.
INSIGHT: Risk Preferences Are More Subconscious Than Conscious
- Research from 2002 by Erb, Bioy, and Hilton demonstrated that “the formation of risk preferences can be based on preconscious processing … rather than rely[ing] on deliberative mental operations.” In layman’s terms, risk preferences are born in the subconscious rather than in a person’s conscious mind.
INSIGHT: Multiple Brain Efforts Are In-Play in Complex Decision-Making
- Results of a 2019 study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports showed that “arousal and cognitive load were significantly related to subsequent stated travel preferences, accounting for about 20% of the variation in preference,” while “subconscious emotional and cognitive responses are not identical to subjective travel preference.” In layman’s terms, this means that both conscious and subconscious factors are at play during complex decision-making tasks – like determining travel preferences for a vacation (as demonstrated in this study).
We began by exploring the studies outlined within the initial research to determine what had been presented already, so we could ensure we were not duplicating findings. From here, we moved into a direct search for research studies published in the last decade or so related to the differences between the unconscious, conscious, and subconscious minds during decision-making, and especially those focusing on the role of the subconscious mind. From this research, we gathered multiple studies which presented varying sides of this long-time debate. Some of these are outside Wonder’s standard two-year window, but are still relevant today. From this collection, we pulled insights relevant to how people make decisions – and what happens in the subconscious mind during these times – and synthesized them into our findings.