He who deliberates lengthily will not always choose the best.– Goethe
Introspection is often considered a uniquely human capability. Other species possess sophisticated cognitive and communicative skills (e.g., Premack & Premack, 1983; Ristau & Robbins, 1982), but as far as we know, we are the only species that thinks about its thoughts and feelings. Given the possibly unique status of our ability to self-reflect, it is tempting to view self-reflection as a uniformly beneficial activity. This assumption has been made, at least implicitly, by theorists in several areas of psychology. Many forms of psychotherapy view introspection as an integral part of the healing process, and some decision theorists argue that reflection about a choice will lead to better decision making (e.g., Janis & Mann, 1977; Koriat, Lichtenstein, & Fischhoff, 1980; Raiffa, 1968). Similarly, Langer (1978, 1989) has argued that we would be better off in most contexts if we were more “mindful” and contemplative about our actions.
Introspection and self-reflection undoubtedly can be very useful, with the ability to superimpose reason and discretion on otherwise impulsive actions. There is no reason to assume that introspection is always beneficial, however, and in fact, there may be times when it is best to avoid too much of it. There is a growing literature documenting the drawbacks of self-reflection and rumination. Morrow and Nolan-Hoeksema (1990) found that people who ruminated about a negative mood were less successful in improving their moods than people who performed a distracting task.