Snap Decisions

Research highlighted in the NYTimes shows that we can overcome our natural tendency to jump to conclusions or make snap decisions by pausing and thinking through our reaction. By doing so we can actually re-wire our responses. "Snap decisions can be important defense mechanisms; if we are judging whether someone is dangerous, our brains and bodies are hard-wired to react very quickly, within milliseconds. But we need more time to assess other factors. To accurately tell whether someone is sociable, studies show, we need at least a minute, preferably five. It takes a while to judge complex aspects of personality, like neuroticism or open-mindedness."

Our automatic responses are so insidious that we often don't even notice them. "...viewing a fast-food logo for just a few milliseconds primes us to read 20 percent faster, even though reading has little to do with eating. We unconsciously associate fast food with speed and impatience and carry those impulses into whatever else we’re doing. Subjects exposed to fast-food flashes also tend to think a musical piece lasts too long."

But all hope is not lost.

"If we know we will overreact to consumer products or housing options when we see a happy face (one reason good sales representatives and real estate agents are always smiling), we can take a moment before buying. If we know female job screeners are more likely to reject attractive female applicants, as a study by the economists Bradley Ruffle and Ze’ev Shtudiner shows, we can help screeners understand their biases — or hire outside screeners."

In matters of judgment, it seems, it pays to slow down.