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Exploring the Duality of Human Thought Processes

psychology, judgments, decision making
Tom Gilovich, professor of psychology, Cornell University (Image credit: NSF.)

This ScienceLives article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

What do you do when careful, deliberate analysis indicates that you should buy a station wagon, but your gut tells you to buy a minivan?

Do you ever worry that if you step out of a slow line at the grocery store to join a faster-moving line you will make your new line slow down and your old line speed up?

Why would you have such thoughts?

As far back as antiquity, philosophers have maintained that we tend to think in two distinct ways. Sometimes our thoughts seem to emerge unbidden and we say they were the product of intuition.

At other times, we analyze problems thoroughly and follow a series of steps and say we have engaged in rational thought.

Considerable progress in understanding these two distinct ways of thinking has been made in recent years by cognitive and social psychologists who have put forward different "dual process" or "two systems" views of human thought.

Tom Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University, focuses his research on how our rational and intuitive thinking processes interact, with a particular emphasis on what happens when they lead people in two very different directions.

Among other things, a consideration of different types of rational-intuitive conflicts can shed light on a host of common superstitions and can help us understand what people tend to do when their intuition tells them one thing but a rational analysis tells them another.

Gilovich is co-author, with Gary Belsky, of Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes—And How To Correct Them: Lessons from the Life-Changing Science of Behavioral Economics.

Below, he answers our 10 questions about his life and work as a scientist.

Name: Thomas Gilovich Institution: Cornell University Field of Study: Psychology

Editor' s Note: The researchers depicted in ScienceLives articles have been supported by the National Science Foundation, the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the ScienceLives archive.