In a world where everything inexorably requires us to speed up, most people’s intuition tells them that being faster is better. However, according to research, our intuition may not always be as good as we think it is. Moreover, thinking slow may have several benefits over fast thinking in a variety of settings.
In this post, we will outline the debates about slow vs fast thinking and 5 benefits of slow thinking, according to science.
Fast Thinking Vs Slow Thinking
People often associate thinking fast with intelligence, strength, and being funny. In this vein, Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting book ‘Blink’ champions thinking without thinking.
Gladwell argues that intuition is the result of meaningful work undertaken by individuals and is more like intelligent design than some magical property from within. This understanding leads Gladwell to argue that spontaneous decisions are good or sometimes even better than decisions we carefully plan. However, this position fails to recognize the value of slow thinking.
In the book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, Kahneman argues that the human mind is made up of two systems. The first relies on fast, instinctive, and emotional action. This system is linked to our survival instincts, helping us to quickly respond to danger. The second relies more on logic, deliberative thought, conscious effort, and taking time – or being slow.
When we do difficult Math, we are usually forced into using this second system. As such, these systems can both be beneficial at times. However, they can also come into conflict. If we let system 1 dominate too much, then we will miss out on the potential benefits of thinking slow.
5 benefits of slow thinking, according to science
Here, we outline 5 ways that slowing down your thinking can be beneficial for you and society at large.
Improved mental health & emotional control
Studies like “The Rediscovery of Slowness: Exploring the Timing of Cognition” have shown that the ability to use slow thinking processes can be characteristic of a healthy brain. They also found that an inability to adaptively regulate emotional responses to challenging situations was a common trait in numerous forms of psychopathology.
Similarly, a 2015 study found that thinking slowly could be beneficial in cases of psychosis. When patients were supported to slow down their thinking processes and recognize fast thoughts, they were able to bring down levels of paranoia.
In the world today, our fast-paced lives can lead us to feel like we never have enough time to do anything. This naturally arouses our sympathetic nervous system, the part of our autonomic nervous system that puts us into fight or flight mode, heightening our stress levels.
On the other side of our autonomic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps us to produce calm and relaxed states. Thinks like mindfulness seek to activate this system by using techniques drawing on our slow thinking systems. Check out our article about relaxation techniques for coping with negativity, anxiety and stress that will help you to benefit from slow thinking.
Prevent biased thinking
Slow thinking allows us to recognize when our thoughts and feelings may be being directed by automatic responses. It also helps us to recognize how this might be causing us to react in certain ways.
The situation could be feeling that you have been ignored, spoken over, or pretty much anything. This could make us feel angry or jump to assumptions about why this happened. If you find yourself in such a situation, try taking a step back and imagining yourself outside the situation you are personally in. Try to reason through why it might have happened. Then, reflect on this before acting.
By imagining yourself outside of a situation, you make it possible to see different perspectives and improve objectivity. You will likely find your initial response quickly dampens in extremity by taking this time and considering more ‘data’. This helps to avoid confirmation biases affecting your decisions. Cognitive reappraisal like this is also beneficial for mental well-being.
Make better decisions
Thinking slowly can help you master the art of decision making. A classic example of slow thinking fostering better decisions is demonstrated by something called the Cognitive Reflection Test. Based on 3 questions, this test is designed to temp human intuition into answering incorrectly.
In a study of 3,428 people, 83% answered at least one question, with 33% answering all 3 incorrectly. The test serves to highlight that intuition is not always as good as you think it is. Understanding this can help people realize that spending more time on decisions can enable them to take different actions with improved results.
Studies have also shown that slow thinking can help people make better decisions that are noticeable at the macro level. For example, a McKinsey Quarterly report found that leaders of business will be more successful in their investments and strategic efforts by thinking slowly.
There has long been growing pressure in academia to produce fast results, with a heavy focus on the number of publications. This outweighs considerations of quality-driven research done at a slow and methodical pace.
Studies have shown that this has actually led to reduced quality in research and increased mistakes. Indeed, Lakens & Evers’ 2014 study found statistical evidence that more productive researchers, measure by publication output, produce the least reliable research with less statistically significant results.
The benefits of slow thinking should not mean that we seek to banish swiftness from all of our actions. Both thinking fast and thinking slow have important benefits for our mental health and well being. However, taking the time to slow down our thinking is vital in our fast-paced world. It helps us to recognize our emotions, make improved decisions, and ultimately leads to better mental health.
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