LONDON: Sleeping on a problem may really be the best way to solve it, researchers have discovered.
Distracting yourself for a few minutes with something else or, even better putting off the issue until the next day, helps the brain come up with the ideal solution, the study found.
According to experiments, people who consciously struggle with a difficult question are more likely to get the wrong answer, compared to those who put it on the mental backburner.
In the tests, students were asked to choose the best models from four imaginary makes of car.
Each one had 12 different features but two had better road holding and fuel economy. After reading about each car, one group of students was asked to make an instant choice.
Another group carried out a second test which was designed to occupy their minds for five minutes before making their decision.
Volunteers in that group, dubbed the “unconscious thinkers”, were more likely to select the best car, the results showed.
Dutch experts believe this is because their subconscious minds were given the time to weigh up all the pros and cons. “Putting it off” could also work for someone in a dilemma about a major financial commitment, such as buying a house, they say.
Psychologist Maarten Bos, who led the research at Radboud University, said the experiments proved that forgetting about a decision often produced the best results, especially if it involved a complicated issue.
The students who did the best were the ones who had been distracted and were therefore unable to “consciously think” about the cars.
He said, “Unconscious thought produces better decisions than when people decide immediately. Although in our current experiments participants did not actually sleep on their decision, the benefit of a period of rest is clear.
“It allows us to differentiate between the vital and the irrelevant aspects. When your grandparents advised you to sleep on a decision first, they may have intuitively sensed the benefits of letting it rest to get a clear grasp of one’s priorities. The current research shows that our grandparents were right”.
The study will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.