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Choosing A Car? Go With Your Gut


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One of the occupational hazards of being an automotive journalist is that friends, neighbors and relatives come to you for car advice on a regular basis. They don’t really want your advice, since in most cases they’ve already decided on purchasing a specific vehicle.

Instead, they want validation, and they want expert opinion telling them that they’ve found the perfect mode of transportation. Generally speaking, no amount of logic or reasoning can change their mind, so in time you learn it’s best to just smile and nod.

New research from Cornell University shows that there may be more behind this decision making than pure emotion. Cornell researchers conducted an experiment similar to one run by the Dutch in 2006, but with slightly different focus groups.

In the Cornell study, participants were split into “feeling-focus” and “detail-focus” groups. As the names imply, feeling-focused subjects were asked about how a particular attribute (such as superior fuel economy) made them feel. Detail-focus subjects were told to remember facts and figures about each model presented.

As with the original Dutch study, there was one car that presented best overall. When presented with simple decisions, the detail-focus group more often chose the “correct” car; however, as more variables were added, it was the feeling-focus group that scored the best.

The unscientific conclusion is that it’s best to let the conscious mind acquire all the details it can, then turn over the complex decision making to the unconscious mind. Put another way, and quoting directly from the research published in Wired, “don’t over-think your decision,” and “when the going gets tough, go with your gut.”

Or, as Andrew Sullivan puts it in The Daily Beast, “our emotions have a logic all their own,” and “instincts are often rooted in the processing powers of the unconscious brain.” Ignore them at your own risk.

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