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Head versus heart: Why it makes a difference

Wednesday, June 26, 2013
posted by Rita Handrich

head-vs-heart-signMost of us have heard the advice to either “follow your head” or to “follow your heart”. There are times when we have chosen one direction only to later realize that we would have done better to take the other path. New research shows we all have tendencies to make decisions based on either our hearts or our heads. As you might expect, women are more commonly driven by heart [up to 2/3] and men are more commonly driven by head [again, up to 2/3]–but gender does not entirely predict which decision-making method you tend to employ.

We don’t merely express ourselves in metaphors. Research has shown that we also think in metaphors. Researchers explored the differences between those who say they follow their heads and those who say they follow their hearts with eight different studies–including one which followed up after a year to see if the heart/head self-description remained stable. It did. The researchers believe this way of perceiving oneself is a trait that remains consistent over time. Rather than going through all 8 studies with you, we are going to list the differences the researchers found.

I follow my heart:

A preference for intuitive/experiential thinking.

A valuing of emotions and greater attention paid to emotions.

Self describe as more emotional and interpersonally warm.

Self describe as more agreeable.

Have lower amount of general knowledge [and have lower GPAs than head followers].

Solve moral dilemmas emotionally and tend to have higher levels of negative daily emotions in response to high-stress days.

I follow my head:

A preference for rational thinking and intellectual challenges.

Self describe as more logical and interpersonally cold (i.e., as having less successful and antagonistic relationships with others).

Self describe as less agreeable.

Have higher amount of general knowledge [and have higher GPAs than heart followers].

Solve moral dilemmas rationally and tend to react more aggressively to others in response to [what they perceive as] provocation.

You can see with a quick review of the findings from 8 different experiments–the researchers found measurable differences between those that said they followed their head and those that said they followed their hearts. As we look at this, we think about how ‘head’ or ‘heart’ jurors might hear evidence differently, or evaluate testimony through these very different filters. Sometimes heart. Sometimes head. You need to sort through which themes play to which individuals. Do you want heads or hearts deliberating your next case?

Fetterman AK, & Robinson MD (2013). Do You Use Your Head or Follow Your Heart? Self-Location Predicts Personality, Emotion, Decision Making, and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology PMID: 23773045


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