Tough Decision? Sleep on it.

Girl sleeping.

According to, a recent study has concluded that the conscious mind is fine for making simple decisions, but for complex, important choices you are best off to “sleep on it” and let your unconscious mind mull it over and make the decision for you. Over thinking a critical decision with many factors often yields an unsatisfactory choice since the conscious mind does not appear to be able to consider all of the factors or weigh those it does consider properly. On the other hand, the unconscious mind seems to be able to sort, weigh, and evaluate all of the factors, yielding a more satisfactory decision.

Subjects of the study carried out at the University of Amsterdam were asked to make decisions about purchases based on information provided them by the researchers. The decisions ranged from simple, like shampoo or oven gloves, to complex, like cars and houses. Half were given the information and told to make a decision right away while the other half were given the information and then spent an hour doing puzzles and other brain teasers before making their decision.

After the subjects made their choices, the decisions were evaluated based on how satisfied the subject remained with their choice over time. The scientists found that those who consciously contemplated the simple choices generally made better decisions. The opposite was true for the complex decisions. Apparently too much thinking led to bad choices. The subjects whose conscious minds were busy solving puzzles made more satisfying choices, a result of freeing the unconscious mind to fully evaluate the decision.

Interestingly, there is a caveat to the unconscious decision making process. The unconscious mind needs to be primed for the choice. Only those subjects that were told in advance that the information they were receiving was important and would be the basis for a subsequent choice made good decisions when the time came. When they were not given advance warning regarding the importance of the information, their choices were not as good.

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