It's election week in the UK. Shaken by the terrorist attacks in Borough and London Bridge, and the earlier suicide bombing on a concert in Manchester, we have to now make a critical decision: which party do we want to rule this country? It's time to make a choice, and use our vote.
How do we make decisions? Most of the time, they’re semi-automatic, the result of having done the same things many times, which is why psychologists can posit that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions in one day. But making your own personal decision over which political party you want to run the country at this critical juncture deserves more thought than choosing between a skinny flat white or a camomile tea.
Most of us use one of these two methods: analysis or intuition. Analytic thinking can be as simple as listing the pros and cons on a piece of paper, perhaps weighting them for importance to you and parts of society you care most about, and then totting up which has the best evidence to suit your beliefs or situation. Even if you don't literally write down your options, many people do this in their head all day long.
Using your intuition is basing your decision more on your absorbed experience, less on thinking it through. Most of us in some way use a mix of the two but as David Ludden, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College wrote recently on Psycology Today’s site “the craziness of the current election season shows us only too clearly the lows to which we humans can sink when we chuck rational thought out the window and rely solely on our intuitions. I can hear our hunter-gatherer ancestors calling from their graves: “Take the time to think analytically, would you?”
In his best-selling book Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow Daniel Kahnemann posits his dual process of the brain theory. We all have two systems of thinking: System 1 is fast, intuitive, automatic - you can’t switch it off; System 2 is slow and takes time and effort. They are fundamentally two opposing ways of seeing the world, and they are at work at the same time.
System 1 is the easy answer to most things but it’s also the route to lots of mistaken beliefs and illogical responses. One that might be useful to know of, in this situation, is the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Just because you’ve paid £50 for a new shirt doesn’t mean that you have to wear it or even keep it in your wardrobe. You don’t like it? Chuck it out! Past decisions shouldn’t affect what we do in the present. In the case of the election, that might mean having to haul up System 2 and really thinking — slowly — what sort of future you want.
Every election is different because of the times that surround it, but this one – called by Theresa May, rather than coming five years after the last one – feels particuarly freighted with uncertainties. The Brexit referendum continues to divide many, and now we have the added urgency of the heightened terror risk, and our responses to media coverage of the recent attacks.
As we reported during the run-up and reaction to the referendum last June, therapists have found that many of their clients are affected by political situations and what is happening around them. David Darvasi, a welldoing.org Gestalt counsellor in East London says, "Many clients bring current affairs into the therapy room. The process leading up to the election seems even harder than coming to terms with the results, if it’s not what one hoped for. The uncertainty we’re having to hold can easily tap into historic experiences of feeling helpless and hurt. One of the ways in which therapy can support the individual is unearthing what feels personal in the societal struggle. People then become more aware of their unique way of responding to such difficulty and that in itself gives back a sense of control, which can serve as a countermeasure to their powerlessness.”
A shorter version of this post was published in The New European