Study Up. Then Sleep on It.
Skip to content
Sep 26, 2013

Study Up. Then Sleep on It.

By Jessica Love

In a recent interview with strategy+business magazine, Loran Nordgren, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, discusses his theory of unconscious thought:

"Consciousness is like a flashlight in a dark room. It can sharply focus attention onto a particular issue or a narrow subset of information. But it has very constrained capacity. Try counting backward by threes while simultaneously putting together your grocery list for the week. You can’t do it; the processing capacity of conscious thought is so small that it is rapidly overwhelmed.

"Unconscious thought, on the other hand, has a much higher processing capacity. This makes it particularly good at broad comparisons of large amounts of information, where some has more natural weight than others. If you’re choosing between two consumer products that are more or less the same—two oven mitts, say, with different colors—conscious attention alone will be adequate. For a more complex decision, you want to give your unconscious an opportunity to get involved."

When it comes to these more complicated choices--like shopping for apartments, betting on World Cup matches, or hiring employees--the best approach is to study up on your options. But then, says Nordgren, you should sleep on the decision, giving your unconscious plenty of time to make sense of the new information.

Read the entire interview here, or check out Insight's past coverage of Nordgren's research here and here.

Photo courtesy of innoxiuss.