When Thinking Too Much Produces Negative Results

An assumption we often make about life's choices is that the larger the choice, the more deliberation is needed to arrive at the best plan of action. This isn't always the case, however.

An assumption we often make about life's choices is that the larger the choice, the more deliberation is needed to arrive at the best plan of action. This isn't always the case, however, and meticulous thinking can sometimes lead us astray. Consider a study led by psychologists Ap Dijksterhuis and Zeger van Olden in which participants were divided into three groups and asked to choose which art poster they liked best. One group deliberated on the qualities of the posters for seven minutes; another did anagrams for the same length of time and then chose their favorite; the third group was given no time to deliberate and had to choose immediately. Several weeks later when researchers checked in with participants, those who had done the anagrams were happiest with their choice. 


Researchers concluded that a unconscious system of mental processing can sometimes lead us more to choose what will make us happier. While that system of thinking is not applicable to every situation, there are some personal choices that too much deliberation can harm. Columbia University business professor Sheena Iyengar discusses how having too many options to choose from can actually blind us to what is most important:

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