It turns out that when we’re undecided we may not be. Science reports a study by Canadian and Italian researchers who used image and word association to tease out self-declared undecided people’s political precommitments with 70% accuracy.
According to Denise Gellene of the L.A. Times (via the N&O) “[t]he researchers said it’s all part of an unconscious decisiveness that manifests itself in the hundreds of mundane, snap decisions people make every day, such as choosing which shoe to put on first or which seat to take on an empty bus.”
Yah. And we don’t even need a fancy theory of the unconscious to explain habituated pseudo-intentionality, although we do need a cultural theory to explain why some people are so resistant to the unremarkable observation that much of our living and thinking is automated for ease of handling.
If, as the study suggests, we’ve all mostly made up our minds already, I wonder about the conditions (psychological, sociological) under which people are inclined to defer or not defer their moment of bringing decision to consciousness. A vulgar behaviorist might wonder if there are rewards and punishments for some people for being, or appearing, decisive, deliberate, open-minded or accommodating. A good study would probably find that these conditions are highly situated, so that people who are inclined to defer decision in one context may be much more decisive in others. The great speckled ditherer is probably a rare bird. Power is certainly in play, but there’s power in both deciding and not deciding, so that’s another situated analysis.
And if undecisive people have already decided, what does this say about decisive people? It may be that only in cases of fundamental ignorance or complete disinterest is persuasion possible. Otherwise, as William James said, when we think we’re thinking we’re merely rearranging our prejudices.