Deliberative Guidance: Intuitive Guidance in the Counterfactual Mode

Chandra Sripada


is perhaps the usual mode by which we guide action, but it is not the only way. People sometimes deliberate. They look at the options that are available and try to evaluate them step by step. Unlike intuition, which is immediate and spontaneous, deliberation unfolds over time. It feels effortful. It requires attention and working memory (Fincham, Carter, van Veen, Stenger, & Anderson, 2002). Doing too much of it leaves a person feeling drained (Vohs et al., 2008).

Thus commonsense understands that there are two different ways for guiding action: intuition and deliberation, and the behavioral sciences are in complete agreement. Summarizing a lot of theory and findings, psychologist Seymour Epstein writes,

There is no dearth of evidence ... that people apprehend reality in two fundamentally different ways, one variously labeled intuitive, automatic, natural, nonverbal, narrative, and experiential, and the other analytical, deliberative, verbal, and rational. (Epstein, 1994, p. 710)

The main question in this chapter is the relationship between guiding one's actions by intuition versus guiding one's actions by deliberation. Two possibilities are of particular interest.

One view, which we call the separate processors view, says intuition and deliberation are separate, distinct modes of thought. If we were to open up a person's head, we would find two different processors: one that delivers intuitive judgments and one that delivers deliberative judgments. If we peak inside the processors themselves, we would see they operate according to very different principles. The idea is already apparent in the preceding quote from Epstein where the intuitive processor is "nonverbal" and "experiential" whereas the deliberative processor is "verbal" and "rational." The cognitive scientist Steve Sloman says the hallmark of the intuitive system is that it is "associative" while the deliberative system is "logical" and "rule- based" (Sloman, 1996). The psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman adds that the intuitive system is "emotional" while the deliberative system is "neutral" (Kahneman, 2003). In addition to operating in different ways, the separate processor view says intuition and deliberation operate independently. They are sealed off from each other; each processor chugs along largely in isolation.

An opposing view says intuition and deliberation are thoroughly intertwined; deliberation is constructed with intuition as a main ingredient. This view starts out with the claim that people can imagine episodic representations of the future. These are vivid and rich in sensory information, concrete details, and spatial context. They can be thought of as mental images or even as mental movies. We call these episodic prospections and we say more about how they are built a bit later. According to this second view, episodic prospection is fundamental to deliberation, and it provides the bridge that links deliberation with intuition.

Here is how it works: Suppose a woman is deliberating about whether to vacation in Alaska or Las Vegas. She starts with Alaska and imagines getting up close to a massive glacier. There is perfect silence all around except for an icy breeze whipping around her ears. She evaluates this episode affectively, in particular with the very same affective mechanisms that would have responded were she in fact standing before an awesome glacier. Her heart beats a little faster; she likes this prospect quite a bit. Next, she creates an episodic prospection in which she is at Las Vegas, drawing on memories of prior trips. It is too hot, the casinos are crowded, and every activity requires waiting in lines. Her affective system finds Las Vegas unappealing and she decides on Alaska.

On this second view, there aren't two independent processors. Rather, deliberation depends fundamentally on intuitive affective evaluations. The same intuitive processes that deliver affective evaluations of ongoing actual situations are reused during deliberation, but they are now directed at situations constructed in the mind. We call this view, which understands intuition and deliberation as deeply interconnected, the "massive reuse model."

It is important to see that with the massive reuse model, deliberation isn't just a supporter for intuition. The two can certainly disagree. Suppose the waiter puts a luscious cheesecake right in front of you. Your affective systems might spontaneously respond by motivating you to have a large slice. However, you can stop yourself and engage in deliberation. You can bring to mind negative consequences of eating the cake, like your belly bulging out of your swimsuit when summer comes around. Or you imagine the positive consequences of restraint, such as the wry smile on your partner's face when viewing your chiseled figure. Here, affect is playing a critical role in deliberation by supplying the needed evaluative information about these imagined prospects. Moreover, it is possible that by considering these downstream prospects, you reach a verdict opposed to your initial reaction. Hence, according to the massive reuse model, although deliberation is fundamentally reliant on affective systems, the two can nonetheless disagree.

So we have two models available, the separate processors view and the massive reuse view. These represent extreme positions, but they are useful nonetheless because the positions are stated with clarity and they are sufficiently distinct that one can start to sort through the evidence and see which has better support. Over the last 10 to 15 years, evidence has started to accumulate that strongly supports the massive reuse model, and we review some of this evidence in the following two sections.

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