Summary of Do You Really Know Why You Do What You Do?

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The last time someone asked you to explain your choices, did you walk away feeling even more certain about your beliefs? Most people do. The act of explaining has a way of convincing people of their own arguments. But experimental psychologist Petter Johansson urges you to question that certainty and offers some compelling research as evidence. getAbstract recommends this intriguing talk to political strategists, R&D professionals, and anyone with a stake in understanding human behavior.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why much of “self-knowledge” is really “self-interpretation”; and
  • Why your opinions, political or otherwise, may be more flexible than you think.

About the Speaker

Experimental psychologist Petter Johansson is an associate professor in cognitive science at Lund University in Sweden. He runs the university’s Choice Blindness Lab.



Experimental psychologist Petter Johansson sits across the table from a woman as he prepares to run a “choice blindness” test. He explains that he will show pairs of photos depicting people’s faces and ask the participant to choose the more attractive of each pair. When the participant makes her first selection, he seemingly holds up the photo and asks her why she made that choice. Yet there’s a twist in this experiment: Johansson uses sleight of hand to show her the photo she rejected. Fewer than 20% of participants detect the trick. Instead, when Johansson asks them to explain their choice, they end up justifying a decision they didn’t make. They might say say they like the person’s smile or another feature. The study – designed to challenge people’s narratives about why they prefer what they do – then analyzed the subjects’ explanations for their choices. Deceived participants were similarly emotional, certain and specific as those who made free, genuine choices.

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