The Introspection Illusion


The Misconception: You know why you like the things you like and feel the way you feel.

The Truth: The origin of certain emotional states is unavailable to you, and when pressed to explain them, you will just make something up.

In the chapter on ‘Introspection’ in David McRaney’s excellent book “You are not so smart” which is in the school’s library, he describes many experiments and associated research that suggest at times when we think we know why we prefer certain artefacts or products or people, we in fact don’t. he shows us just how intuitive we are and how reason can just get in the way.

He cites a piece of research carried out at the University of Virginia in 1990 in which Tim Wilson brought two separate groups of students into a room and showed them a set of posters. The first group were told they could take anyone they wanted. The second group, however, had to write a rationale for why they liked their chosen print before they could take it. He then waited 6 months and then went back to both groups of participants. The first group where still happy with their choices, whilst the second were not. According to Wilson “when you are faced with a decision in which you are forced to think about your rationale, you start to turn the volume in your emotional brain down and the volume in your logical brain up.” Wilson himself went on to conclude that “forming preferences is akin to riding a bicycle; we can do it easily but cannot easily explain how”

  • So what is the relationship between reason and emotion?
  • In what other circumstances do we think we are prioritizing reason over emotion, but, in fact do the opposite?
  • Do we ever make emotional decisions and then retrofit our thinking (post-rationalise)? Do you do that at all?

Read more here

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