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Sunday, November 02, 2008

I've Unconsciously Decided This Is Rubbish

From New Scientist:

"BARACK OBAMA or John McCain? Floating voters in the upcoming US election may already have made up their minds - they just don't know it yet.

"Bertram Gawronski, a social psychologist at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and his colleagues asked 129 residents of Vicenza, Italy, whether they would support a controversial proposal to enlarge the city's US military base. To measure subconscious biases, the team used an "implicit association" test to record, for example, whether volunteers associated pictures of the base with positive words such as "joy" or negative ones such as "pain".

"When polled a week later, many who were undecided about the base in the first poll had resolved to support or oppose it - and the team found that their decision could be predicted by their responses on the association test (Science, vol 321, p 1100)."

Hmm, people's decisions are affected by what things they think of as good or bad -- what a surprise! But that doesn't mean they've already "made up their minds" on all future decisions. You've only made up your mind when you know you've made up your mind, because that's what "making up your mind" means.

5 comments:

  1. Gene, I disagree. I think it`s fairly well-established that we often subconsciously make decisions, that we only later rationalize.

    ReplyDelete
  2. wabulon8:36 AM

    What about lying to yourself? Say you deeply hate XYZ-people, but hotly claim and truly believe that you are without prejudice.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Tom, what I'm saying is that the definition of a decision is something we know about, and the it's ridiculous to contend that empirical finding can "refute" a definition! No empirical findings can show that unicorns aren't one-horned horses -- at the most, it can prove that there are no real animals meeting the definition. Similarly, if empirical research showed all the things we think of as decisions are unconscious, they would have proved we make no decisions, not that such an abortion as "unconscious decisions" exist.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Gene, you can quibble with their choice of words (or with the meaning of their words), but it seems to me that what the New Scientist article asserts is that (i) subconscious biases affect our decision-making, (ii) it is possible to check in advance what our subconscious biases may be with respect to a particular issue, and (iii) that such information may be useful.

    Do you disagree with any of these propositions?

    If you are simply arguing that "decision" means only a conscious choice, I would wonder if you intend to remove the ability to make decisions from the rest of the animate world.

    ReplyDelete
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