Instinctual vs. Rational Decision–Making

Squeezing the article into a tenuous comparison between Obama and McCain, The Boston Globe has a nonetheless interesting article on recent research into the benefits of, and the differences between, instinctual (gut) decisions and methodical (rational) ones.

The crucial skill, scientists are now saying, is the ability to think about your own thinking, or metacognition, as it is known. Unless people vigilantly reflect on how they are making an important decision, they won’t be able to properly use their instincts, or know when their gut should be ignored. Indeed, according to this emerging new vision of decision-making, the best predictor of good judgement isn’t intuition or experience or intelligence. Rather, it’s the willingness to engage in introspection, to cultivate what Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, calls “the art of self-overhearing.”

In the early 1990s, Damasio began publishing a series of landmark papers describing the symptoms of patients who, after a brain injury, were unable to perceive or experience emotion. At the time, most scientists assumed that such a deficit would lead to more rational decisions, since the patients were free of their irrational instincts.

Damasio found the opposite: these dispassionate patients made consistently bad decisions. Some made terrible investments and ended up bankrupt; others started drinking heavily and getting into fights; most just spent hours deliberating over irrelevant details, such as where to eat lunch. According to Damasio, when people are cut off from their emotions even the most banal decisions become all but impossible.

via Seed