Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Trust Your Heart" may be the right thing

I'm intrigued by new research to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research later this year. In a pre-publication press release (PDF file), the Journal states:

Trust Your Heart: Emotions May Be More Reliable When Making Choices

When choosing a flavor of ice cream, an item of clothing, or even a home, you might be better off letting your emotions guide you, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“Our current research supports theories in evolutionary psychology that propose that our emotions can be conceived as a set of ‘programs’ that have evolved over time to help us solve important recurrent problems with speed and accuracy, whether it is to fall in love or to escape from a predator,” write authors Leonard Lee (Columbia Business School), On Amir (University of California, San Diego), and Dan Ariely (Duke University).

“We investigated the following question: To what extent does relying on one’s feelings versus deliberative thinking affect the consistency of one’s preferences?” write the authors. To get at the question, the authors designed experiments where participants studied and chose among 8-10 products, sometimes relying upon their emotional reactions and sometimes calling upon cognitive skills. Their conclusion: “Emotional processing leads to greater preference consistency than cognitive processing.”

. . .

It seems the old adage “trust your heart” is true for consumers. “If one buys a house and relies on very cognitive attributes such as resale value, one may not be as happy actually purchasing it,” write the authors. “Indeed, our results suggest that the heart can very well serve as a more reliable compass to greater long-term happiness than pure reason.”

This is particularly interesting to me because I have a tendency to over-intellectualize problems and issues. I'm aware of it, and so I can compensate for it, but it's a common fault with many people - men in particular. We can over-analyze something to such a depth that we become victims of 'paralysis by analysis' - in other words, never coming to a decision, or taking action. Our analysis ends up costing us more in time, effort and other useful things than a quicker, simpler decision would have done.

Also, as a counselor of many years experience, I've seen the problems that can occur when a couple tries to over-analyze their compatibility. Many churches and other pre-marriage counselors now demand that couples complete all sorts of personality tests and the like, to see whether they're truly compatible before they 'take the plunge'. Whilst I regard these as valuable tools to help the couple understand themselves and each other as individuals, I'm not so sure that they can predict the success of a marriage. After all, we're using them more today than at any time in history - and the divorce rate has never been higher! Sure, a couple can be 'in lust' more than they're 'in love', but that tends to wear off over time, so a longer courtship can reveal more than any number of tests.

My own 'acid test' for a relationship is very simple: can the couple laugh together? Do they have a compatible sense of humor, and can they laugh at themselves and at life together? If so, I think it's very likely that they'll succeed in building a life together. Absent a sense of humor, a lot of other problems are likely to emerge. That reality suggests that the heart really is the best predictor of success in such relationships, as humor is more at the 'gut level' than cerebral, IMHO.


1 comment:

LabRat said...

Oh, curse you Peter. Now I'm going to spend half my day chasing down only barely remembered articles on recent research into the neurology of humor and its role in relationships, because I really think you might be on to something there...