Choice Blindness: You Don't Know What You Want
Article Introduction (Via New Scientific)
We have all heard of experts who fail basic tests of sensory discrimination in their own field: wine snobs who can’t tell red from white wine (albeit in blackened cups), or art critics who see deep meaning in random lines drawn by a computer. We delight in such stories since anyone with pretensions to authority is fair game. But what if we shine the spotlight on choices we make about everyday things? Experts might be forgiven for being wrong about the limits of their skills as experts, but could we be forgiven for being wrong about the limits of our skills as experts on ourselves?
We have been trying to answer this question using techniques from magic performances. Rather than playing tricks with alternatives presented to participants, we surreptitiously altered the outcomes of their choices, and recorded how they react. For example, in an early study we showed our volunteers pairs of pictures of faces and asked them to choose the most attractive. In some trials, immediately after they made their choice, we asked people to explain the reasons behind their choices.
Additional Article Excerpts (Via New Scientific)
As anyone who has ever been in a verbal disagreement can attest, people tend to give elaborate justifications for their decisions, which we have every reason to believe are nothing more than rationalisations after the event. To prove such people wrong, though, or even provide enough evidence to change their mind, is an entirely different matter: who are you to say what my reasons are?
But with choice blindness we drive a large wedge between intentions and actions in the mind. As our participants give us verbal explanations about choices they never made, we can show them beyond doubt – and prove it – that what they say cannot be true. So our experiments offer a unique window into confabulation (the story-telling we do to justify things after the fact) that is otherwise very difficult to come by. We can compare everyday explanations with those under lab conditions, looking for such things as the amount of detail in descriptions, how coherent the narrative is, the emotional tone, or even the timing or flow of the speech. Then we can create a theoretical framework to analyse any kind of exchange.