21
Apr
08

Reflective System vs. Automatic System

In the short time I’ve been plunged into adulthood (not maturity, mind you), I have observed with endless curiosity the different consciences with which my peers traverse the days and weeks that bring us ever closer to death. It seems as if some of us are more existential, pondering happiness and the meaning of life and various philosophies. We psychoanalyze our past and present, decision-making and those of our friends, acquaintances and family. We are constantly thinking and considering and struggling to find our most productive and positive place in the universe. It can be tiring and half the time I feel like a dog chasing its own tail.

Others are bit more shallow. And I’m not saying that as an insult; it’s simply the best descriptive adjective for the coasting along the status quo I’ve noticed in the lives of many of my peers. Many people simply find a job, get married, and have kids without ever a thought given to trailblazing or creating a masterpiece with this life they’ve been given. They do not question that with which they were raised: religion, fried foods, political parties.  Many do not move away from home or go to college or vote or ever engage in deep thought and discussion and debate.

I do not think I’m better than these people – merely different. It is just so interesting that some of us mentally and spiritually exist always questioning and analyzing and seeking. Others are content as is. It’s CRAZY, people!

And, what’s ever crazier, is the Freakonomics blog interviewing Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, authors of Nudge, Improving Decisions on Health, Wealth, and Happiness. My jaw nearly dropped when I read this question and answer section:

“Q: You write that human brains function either on their more deliberate and self-conscious Reflective System or their intuitive, rapid Automatic System (Homer Simpson), and that voters seem to primarily rely on the latter. (So much so that it’s possible to predict the outcome of elections by testing automatic responses.) Can you make any predictions about the presidential election based on which candidate has more “automatic appeal?”

A: We are betting on the guy from Illinois — the one who used to teach at the University of Chicago Law School. Admittedly, we might be biased, but we have seen first hand the way people immediately relate to him, and that should help.

Also, it is important not to push this evidence too far. Although initial impressions are important, certainly many voters do use their reflective systems to consider each of the candidates with care. We think the country is lucky to have three smart candidates who can give voters plenty to think about.”

Perhaps I’m reading into this text way too much or focusing on some obscure point, but I just feel so relieved that others have noticed the difference in people’s cognitive behavior and have even given it a term: Reflective System vs. Automatic System. I just wish I knew why some choose to reflection while others simply function without much ado.

Perhaps I’m being too reflective about Reflective System. More times than I’d like, I find myself wishing for a more Automatic life – but then would this existence be as flavorful? Would it matter at all? Would chocolate still taste as good?

No wonder I drink so much.

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6 Responses to “Reflective System vs. Automatic System”


  1. 1 Bryan Holmes
    May 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Meredith, based on your interest stated on this subject, and quite frankly, on how you write and the way you describe the “what” and “how” of your thinking, I sincerely feel you may find this book quite interesting. I read this book and I think it will help answer your question–at least in part to help identify this trait in people and better understand them.

    Thanks for your blog, I found this interesting and came upon it after reading the Nudge book and researching Reflective and Automatic Systems.

    Bryan

  2. 2 Bryan Holmes
    May 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Meredith, based on your interest stated on this subject, and quite frankly, on how you write and the way you describe the “what” and “how” of your thinking, I sincerely feel you may find this book quite interesting. I read this book and I think it will help answer your question–at least in part to help identify this trait in people and better understand them.

    Thanks for your blog, I found this interesting and came upon it after reading the Nudge book and researching Reflective and Automatic Systems.

    Oops, forgot the link: http://www.amazon.com/Please-Understand-Temperament-Character-Intelligence/dp/1885705026

    Bryan

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  4. 4 Dian
    February 26, 2017 at 1:05 pm

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