Spur-of-the-moment thoughts perceived to reveal meaningful self-insight
Researchers have said that spontaneous thoughts are perceived to provide potent self-insight and can influence judgment and decisions more than similar, more deliberate kinds of thinking.
Carey K. Morewedge, lead author and associate professor of marketing in the Tepper School of Business with an additional appointment in the Dietrich College's Department of Social and Decision Sciences, said they are aware of the output of spontaneous thoughts, but lack insight into the reasons why and processes by which they occurred.
For the study, Morewedge, CMU's Colleen E. Giblin and Harvard University's Michael I. Norton ran five studies. The first three were designed to test the hypothesis that the more spontaneous a thought is, the more it is believed to provide meaningful self-insight.
Participants rated the extent to which different thought categories are spontaneous or controlled and the extent to which each provides self-insight; they recalled either a pleasant or unpleasant childhood event and evaluated the degree that the recollection would provide meaningful self-insight if it happened spontaneously or deliberately; and they generated thoughts about four strangers through a deliberative or spontaneous process and rated how much those thoughts provided them with valuable self-insight.
The results suggest that when people evaluate a particular thought, they not only consider its content, they are also influenced by their more general beliefs about different thought processes. Thoughts with the same content are judged to be more meaningful if they occurred through a spontaneous, uncontrolled process rather than a deliberate, controlled process.
The effect was found across various kinds of thought and thought content, including thoughts about other people. This means that the content of spontaneous thought need not be entirely about the self in order for people to feel like they've gleaned meaningful self-insight.
The study has been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
(Posted on 28-05-2014)