The Role of Gist and Verbatim Memory in Complex Decision Making: Explaining the Unconscious-Thought Effect

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Abstract

Previous research showed that the unconscious-thought effect, which refers to an improvement in complex decision making following a distraction period, was moderated by the presentation format of pieces of information about different options. The aim of the current study was to replicate this finding and further examine the memory representations underlying decision making following a distraction or a deliberation period. Results showed that, when the information was presented blocked per option, participants were better able to differentiate the best option from the others after a distraction period than immediately after the information presentation or after a deliberation period. In addition, distracted participants retrieved more gist representations of the options when the information was presented per option. By contrast, participants were better able to differentiate the best option from the others after a deliberation period when the information was presented per attribute. Participants who deliberated also retrieved more verbatim representations when the information was presented per attribute. Finally, mediation analyses indicated that the accuracy of the evaluations of the options depends on gist memory when distracted but on verbatim memory when deliberating. These findings suggest that the effectiveness of distraction or deliberation depends on the memory representations of the different options.

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