In the past, research on decision-making viewed it as essentially a rational or logical process. If people had accurate information and weighed their options, they would make good choices. More recently, researchers recognize that it’s much more complicated than that. Scholars now understand that we have two important, interconnected systems for processing information:

  1. A “hot” or “fast” system, which is intuitive, automatic and reactive; and
  2. A “cold” or “slow” system, which is more deliberate, controlled and reasoned.

Both systems are critical for how we process information and make decisions. The “fast” or “hot” system lets us do things seemingly “without thinking,” such as walking or ducking when we see an object flying toward us. These decisions are routine or habitual. That’s important, because if we had to stop to think about everything, we would quickly become overwhelmed.

The challenge is that it’s easy to get swept away in an exciting moment or to give in to what we want with little attention to the consequences (the hot or fast thinking system). So we eat too much, exercise too little, spend too much, study too little or play too many online games. Though all of these (and other choices) seem very different, they all share a common theme: It’s easy to let something tempting that’s right in front of us take us away from other things we really value for the long term.

So we need to step back, get some distance and cool it. If we want to take the future into account, we have to let cool thinking take control. In an age of instant gratification, that self-control is a critical skill to cultivate in students so they can be successful in school, work and all of life.

This month’s Renaissance Kit provides tools to help young people be more conscious of the different thinking systems as well as strategies they can use to “cool down” when the hot system engages too much.

— Kent Pekel, Ed.D.
President and CEO, Search Institute

 The preceding text is an adaptation of research done by the Search Institute and an excerpt from the April’s Renaissance Kit: Hot Thinking, Cold Thinking

This year, Jostens is partnering with Search Institute, an organization dedicated to researching and understanding what kids need in order to succeed. Over the past 25 years, Search Institute has studied the strengths and challenges in the lives of more than five million middle and high school youth across the country and around the world. Like Jostens Renaissance, Search Institute focuses on young people’s strengths, rather than emphasizing their problems or deficiencies. Visit to learn more.

Below you will find the Hot Thinking, Cold Thinking guide. Click the image to download a PDF with class activities, statistics and research around thinking systems and self control.HotThinkingColdThinking


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