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PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

In the last few weeks, I have published blogs about the way we think. That is, while we use System 1 throughout most of the day, it is intuitive, lazy, and emotional and does not always lead us down the correct path. In contrast, our System 2 is analytical, deliberate, slow, effortful and rational. It takes effort to use it, uses up energy, and being the lazy souls that we are, we tend to default to System 1 thinking as much as possible.

Well, it seems that The New York Times published another interesting article on July 19, 2014 about procrastination, entitled “Sometimes, Early Birds Are Too Early” by Matt Richtel. In reality, the article appears to be a testament to the differences between our System 1 and System 2 ways of thinking. It shows that we default to System 1 whenever possible, even when it is not in our best interests to do so. If we had been willing to use some mental effort and invoke System 2, we could have saved some physical energy (oxymoronic?).

Evidently, in a paper published in May 2014 in Psychological Science, the researchers found that “…there is an overwhelming tendency to procrastinate.” (Id.). The purpose of the research was “…to explore decision-making when it comes to physical effort.” (Id.)

Students were asked to carry a beach bucket down an alley. They were given a choice: They could pick up a bucket near the start of the alley and carry it to the end, or they could pick up a different bucket that was closer to the end of the alley, walk a few steps and put it down.

The researchers assumed that most of the subjects would choose the bucket that required the least amount of lifting time. Instead, most picked up the bucket that was closer to them, a decision that forced them to carry it longer than necessary. In other words, they gave themselves extra work for no apparent benefit. (Id.)

As this result did not make sense, (that is why someone would carry something farther than necessary?), the researchers performed more experiments. In one, they filled the buckets with pennies thereby making them heavier. Still, the subjects picked up the bucket closest to them, even if it meant carrying it further. (Id.)

The researchers finally figured out why:

Through the experiments, the researchers homed in on a hypothesis: People appear wired to incur a significant physical cost to eliminate a mental burden.

In particular, Dr. Rosenbaum said, people are seeking ways to limit the burden to their “working memory,” a critical but highly limited mental resource that people use to perform immediate tasks. By picking up the bucket earlier, the subjects were eliminating the need to remember to do it later. In essence, they were freeing their brains to focus on other potential tasks. (Id.)

Studies have shown that System 2 thinking requires energy and actually uses up glucose. This study seems to indicate that intuitively, people attempt to save mental energy by using more physical energy. System 1 irrationally tells them to carry a heavier bucket for a longer distance than necessary because it is too much effort to analyze that it takes less physical energy to carry the bucket a shorter distance!

Good ole’ System 1…. At it again! It is certainly ubiquitous, if not omnipresent!… and we don’t even realize it!

….Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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