Debate Yourself and You’ll Make Better Decisions

New research shows how inner dialogue can boost critical thinking.

Next time you’re trying to figure out where you stand on any given issue (be it work-related, social, political, etc.), try framing the opposing sides as a debate in your mind. New research published in Psychological Science suggests that imagining a topic as a dialogue between differing points-of-view can help you sharpen your reasoning skills and make better-informed choices.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

“Envisioning opposing views leads to a more comprehensive examination of the issue,” Julia Zavala, a psychology researcher at Teachers College at Columbia University and first author on the study, told the Association for Psychological Science in this post about the findings. You’re opening your mind to different perspectives, increasing the likelihood that you’ll make a choice or take a stand based on evidence, not just your own opinions or beliefs.

For the study, researchers put 60 undergraduates through a series of experiments. First, everyone was given information about problems facing a particular city and how two mayoral candidates planned to solve those problems. One group of students was told to write a dialogue between TV commentators about the candidates; the other group wrote an essay about each candidate’s qualifications. Then both groups drafted a two minute script for a TV ad about the candidate they personally preferred.

When researchers reviewed all of the writing samples, they found that students who created a dialogue appeared to be more informed on the issues facing the city. They were also better at linking problems with potential solutions, directly comparing the two candidate’s ideas and backing up their own statements with evidence. As the APS post explains, “Only 20 percent of students in the dialogue group made one or more unsubstantiated claims, compared with 60 percent of the students in the essay group.”

We’ve written about how being able to loosening your grip on your own thoughts and opinions (also known as being more intellectually humble) can lead to better decisions. These new findings add to the evidence that being open to differing views (and being informed about both sides of any given issue) improves your ability to come to well-reasoned conclusions, too. Putting this research to use doesn’t have to be time consuming either. Though the students in the study spent about an hour on the dialogue task, simple taking a few minutes to put on a mini-debate in your head could still be beneficial.

Read more about the study in the APS post here.