Unconscious-thought effects take place off-line, not on-line.Psychol Sci 2010; 21(4):484-8PS
The unconscious-thought effect refers to an improvement in decision making following distraction from the decision context for a period of time. The dominant explanation for this effect is that unconscious processes continue to deal with the problem during the distraction period. Recently, however, some researchers have proposed that unconscious thinkers may be merely recalling a judgment that was formed on-line (i.e., during information acquisition). We present two experiments that rule out the latter interpretation. In the unconscious-thought condition of the first experiment, participants who reported making their decision after unconscious thought made better decisions than those who reported making their decision on-line. In the second experiment, all participants judged the choice alternatives both on-line and off-line. On-line judgments were predictive of off-line judgments only in the immediate-decision condition, but not in the conscious- and unconscious-thought conditions. These results demonstrate that a period of unconscious thought does improve judgments that were formed earlier on-line.