How People THink

Thinking styles vary depending on our familiarity with the object of thought. We use automatic cognition when in familiar contexts and deliberate cognition when in unfamiliar contexts. When a disruption occurs in our ordinary routines, like the Keurig coffee maker doesn’t start like usual, we are flung from automatic to deliberate cognition. Deliberate cognition, in short, is the thinking style of unfamiliar experiences.

Most people are naturally attracted to the ease of automatic thinking and will try to prevent disruptions that can lead to deliberate thinking. That’s why habits have such a strong pull on us – they employ automatic thinking and to break free, one must engage in the deliberate form.

Despite the cultural preference for automatic thinking, the deliberate thinking required of unfamiliar contexts can be experienced as fun and exciting. Examples include: experiencing different cultures, learning new languages, trying unfamiliar foods, etc.

Deliberate thinking can be tiresome. Design should seek to minimize deliberate thinking, unless it can be reframed as enjoyable or exciting. New products, if not familiar enough in design, can require too much deliberate thinking. New products should generally seek a short deliberate-to-automatic thinking conversion.