Thursday, December 29, 2005

Self analysis is for suckers

The NY Times has a story on its website discussing the limitations of self analysis. The author discusses a study he conducted. He writes:

Not sure how you feel about a special person in your life? Analyzing the pluses and minuses of the relationship might not be the answer.
In a study I conducted with Dolores Kraft, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Dana Dunn, a social psychologist at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, people in one group were asked to list the reasons their relationship with a romantic partner was going the way it was, and then rate how satisfied they were with the relationship. People in another group were asked to rate their satisfaction without any analysis; they just gave their gut reactions.
It might seem that the people who thought about the specifics would be best at figuring out how they really felt, and that their satisfaction ratings would thus do the best job of predicting the outcome of their relationships.
In fact, we found the reverse. It was the people in the "gut feeling" group whose ratings predicted whether they were still dating their partner several months later. As for the navel gazers, their satisfaction ratings did not predict the outcome of their relationships at all. Our conclusion? Too much analysis can confuse people about how they really feel.

I disagree with their conclusion. They have missed a central issue of human nature--one that I have had on my mind a lot lately: namely, that people almost always base their decisions on "feelings", then use reason to justify a decision they have already made. I believe the gut reaction conformed to what the people wanted to be true. When asked about their relationship, they answered what they felt, not what they thought. Then, as all people do, they gathered evidence that supported their opinion.

Reason is rarely used to come up with a conclusion. It is used to justify an already-held belief. For instance, I don't think any reasonable argument could make me a Republican. No reasonable argument could make a Christian an atheist. No reasonable argument could convince Bush to pull out of Iraq.

Thus, in today's society, reason is no longer used to arrive at a truth, because the truth may contradict what we believe to be true. To let reason reign, we must be willing to accept any conclusion. Most of us are not willing to do that, so we use reason only to convince ourselves we are right.

We may not call ourselves reasonable unless we are willing to accept any conclusion to which reason leads. Can any of us call ourselves reasonable?

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