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Automatic Mental Associations Predict Future Choices of Undecided Decision-Makers

Science  22 Aug 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5892, pp. 1100-1102
DOI: 10.1126/science.1160769

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Abstract

Common wisdom holds that choice decisions are based on conscious deliberations of the available information about choice options. On the basis of recent insights about unconscious influences on information processing, we tested whether automatic mental associations of undecided individuals bias future choices in a manner such that these choices reflect the evaluations implied by earlier automatic associations. With the use of a computer-based, speeded categorization task to assess automatic mental associations (i.e., associations that are activated unintentionally, difficult to control, and not necessarily endorsed at a conscious level) and self-report measures to assess consciously endorsed beliefs and choice preferences, automatic associations of undecided participants predicted changes in consciously reported beliefs and future choices over a period of 1 week. Conversely, for decided participants, consciously reported beliefs predicted changes in automatic associations and future choices over the same period. These results indicate that decision-makers sometimes have already made up their mind at an unconscious level, even when they consciously indicate that they are still undecided.

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