- Don't rely on introspection alone: If there are multiple possible explanations for our behavior, then how can we decide which one is correct? Rather than just looking inward, we can also examine our responses over time. If our feelings and behavior don't seem consistent with our conscious explanations, then it is worth re-examining our theories. When we moved into our house, I had the idea that neutral, off-white walls were ideal, as that gave us the freedom to display any artwork we liked without fear of clashing with the color of the wall. But every time we have painted one of the rooms a bold, striking color, it makes me happier. It turns out that my oh-so-reasonable belief that I would prefer neutral paint schemes was just wrong -- it doesn't fit with my real experience and feelings. So, in keeping with my goal of open-mindedness, I threw out my neutral-paint theory and reshaped my self-image to fit my actual patterns of experience. Friends and family can also be useful sources of data, particularly insofar as they might recognize patterns that we haven't seen (although their image of us may also be biased).
Note: This post was prompted by a comment I posted on Katherine A. Cartwright's blog about the role of introspection in the artistic process. Check out her blog for terrific intellectual discussions about art.
Johansson, P., Hall, L., Sikström, S., Olsson, A. (2005). Failure to Detect Mismatches Between Intention and Outcome in a Simple Decision Task. Science 310 (5745): 116–119. PDF
Wilson, T. D. (2002). Strangers to ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wilson, Timothy D. (2003). Knowing When to Ask: Introspection and the Adaptive Unconscious, in Anthony Jack, Andreas Roepstorff. Trusting the subject?: the use of introspective evidence in cognitive science. Imprint Academic. pp. 131–140. PDF
Wilson, T. D., Lisle, D., Schooler, J. W., Hodges, S. D., Klaaren, K. J., & LaFleur, S. J. (1993). Introspecting about reasons can reduce post-choice satisfaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 331–339. PDF