Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Spontaneous thoughts are perceived to reveal meaningful self-insight

Date:
May 27, 2014
Source:
Carnegie Mellon University
Summary:
Scientists set out to determine how people perceive their own spontaneous thoughts and if those thoughts or intuitions have any influence over judgment. They found that spontaneous thoughts are perceived to provide potent self-insight and can influence judgment and decisions more than similar, more deliberate kinds of thinking -- even on important topics such as commitment to current romantic partners.

Spontaneous thoughts, intuitions, dreams and quick impressions. We all have these seemingly random thoughts popping into our minds on a daily basis. The question is what do we make of these unplanned, spur-of-the-moment thoughts? Do we view them as coincidental wanderings of a restless mind, or as revealing meaningful insight into ourselves?

A research team from Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard Business School set out to determine how people perceive their own spontaneous thoughts and if those thoughts or intuitions have any influence over judgment. Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, their research found that spontaneous thoughts are perceived to provide potent self-insight and can influence judgment and decisions more than similar, more deliberate kinds of thinking -- even on important topics such as commitment to current romantic partners.

"We are aware of the output of spontaneous thoughts, but lack insight into the reasons why and processes by which they occurred. Rather than dismiss these seemingly random thoughts as meaningless, our research found that people believe, precisely because they are not controlled, that spontaneous thoughts reveal more meaningful insight into their own mind -- their beliefs, attitudes and preferences -- than similar, deliberate thoughts. As a consequence, spontaneous thoughts can have a more potent influence on judgment," said 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. "People often believe their intuitions, dreams and or random thoughts reveal more insight than the result of more effortful thinking and reasoning. This research helps to explain these curious beliefs."

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 last two experiments extended the investigation to determine if the greater insight attributed to spontaneous thoughts leads them to have a greater impact on judgment. The researchers tested this first by having participants think about a love interest other than their present or most recent significant other spontaneously or deliberately, report the self-insight that the thought provided and then indicate their attraction toward that person. They found that those who spontaneously generated a thought of a love interest believed that thought revealed more self-insight and perceived their attraction to be stronger than the participants who identified a love interest with deliberate thinking.

Finally, to determine whether this greater influence would extend to both positive and negative spontaneous thoughts, participants recalled a positive or negative experience related to their current or most recent romantic relationship. Participants reported the extent to which the spontaneous and deliberate recollection of that memory would provide them with meaningful self-insight and increase or decrease the likelihood that they would end the relationship. The results showed that participants believed the recollection of a positive or negative experience with their current romantic partner would reveal more self-insight and have a greater influence on their commitment to that relationship if it was recalled spontaneously rather than deliberately.

"The perception that a thought popped into mind out of nowhere can lead people to overvalue their own insights. When considering a thought that came to mind spontaneously, it may be useful to ask yourself the following question: had the same thought come to mind after careful deliberation, would it seem just as meaningful? If you realize that your interpretation of a particular thought depends on whether it came to mind spontaneously, that's an indication that your beliefs about these different kinds of thoughts might be affecting your judgment," said Giblin, a doctoral student in CMU's Tepper School of Business.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Mellon University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Carey K. Morewedge, Colleen E. Giblin, Michael I. Norton. The (perceived) meaning of spontaneous thoughts.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2014; DOI: 10.1037/a0036775

Cite This Page:

Carnegie Mellon University. "Spontaneous thoughts are perceived to reveal meaningful self-insight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527154746.htm>.
Carnegie Mellon University. (2014, May 27). Spontaneous thoughts are perceived to reveal meaningful self-insight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527154746.htm
Carnegie Mellon University. "Spontaneous thoughts are perceived to reveal meaningful self-insight." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527154746.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins