Anagrams and Decision Making

Are you a good decision maker?

Some decisions are easy to make and they appear almost instinctive. These are straight-forward and don’t demand much thinking through.

Then there are other decisions that require more time because you need to weigh up the pros and cons in order to make, what you hope, is the right decision, or at least something close.

This is on-line conscious thinking that gives you the feeling of being level-headed and rational, and you probably are.

But there are some decisions which need lots more time and you need to ‘sleep on it’. That’s no bad thing because this is where your unconscious mind can help.

Dijksterhuis and van Olden (2006) found that unconscious thought leads to better decision making performance for complex problems than conscious thought.

This deliberation with attention effect refers to the off-line mode we enter into and the distraction improves our decision making through unconscious processing.

Dijksterhuis and his the team showed volunteers a series of cars and their attributes on a screen before asking half of them to think carefully about choosing the best car. The other volunteers had to solve anagrams.

The results showed that those in the anagram group were more likely to choose the cars with the best attributes, leading the researchers to conclude that it is best to leave tough choices to the unconscious.

Professor Richard Wiseman has taken this research and designed a distraction exercise that taps into the unconscious thought effect. Does it work for you?

In his book :59 Seconds, he asks us to write down what decision we have to make.

Then he asks us to have a go at solving as many of the following anagrams as possible in 5 minutes – these are the distractions.

  1. Open change (clue: European city)
  2. A motto (clue: well-known vegetable)
  3. Past eight (clue: popular in Italy)
  4. Noon leap (clue: European general)
  5. Ring late (clue: three sides)
  6. Lither cats (clue: track and field)
  7. Did train (clue: Island holiday destination)
  8. Eat (clue: time for….)
  9. Loaded inn (clue: flower)
  10. Cool cheat (clue: better than diamonds for many women)
  11. Neat grain (clue: South American country)
  12. Lob aloft (clue: game of two halves)
  13. Groan (clue: popular in churches)
  14. cried (clue: alcoholic drink)
  15. cheap (clue: soft fruit)

Wiseman then says that after completing as many of these as we can, and without thinking too much, write down your decision.

Did the distraction help?

Of course, anagrams require you to think and attend to something different so part of your mind is being allowed some breathing space and in this time, the pros and cons are being weighed up.

The distraction doesn’t have to be anagrams but whatever works for you.


1. Copenhagen 2. Tomato 3. Spaghetti 4. Napoleon 5. Triangle 6. Athletics 7. Trinidad 8. Tea 9. DandelionĀ  10. Chocolate 11. Argentina 12. Football 13. Organ 14. Cider 15. Peach

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: