Gist Memory in the Unconscious-Thought Effect


  • Abadie Marlène
  • Waroquier Laurent
  • Terrier Patrice


  • Conscious thought
  • Decision making
  • Distraction
  • Gist memory
  • Memory
  • Thinking
  • Unconscious thought
  • Verbatim memory

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The unconscious-thought effect (UTE) occurs when people are better able to make complex decisions after a period of distraction rather than immediately or after a period of conscious deliberation. This finding has often been interpreted as evidence of unconscious thinking. In two experiments, we provided the first evidence that the UTE is accompanied by enhanced memory for the gist of decision-relevant attributes and demonstrated that the cognitive demands of a distraction task moderate its effect on decision making and gist memory. It was only following a low-demand distraction task that participants chose the best alternative more often and displayed enhanced gist memory for decision-relevant attributes. These findings suggest that the UTE occurs only if cognitive resources are available and that it is accompanied by enhanced organization of information in memory, as shown by the increase in gist memory.

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