What is intuition? According to Neuroscience News, “intuition is the result of information processing in the brain that results in prediction based on previous experience.” I had always perceived intuition as more of a gut feeling, but learning it’s based on past experiences, it makes me wonder how effective it can be in decision making.
Apparently, intuition is more than just a feeling. It’s actually the result of a lot of processing within the brain. The brain is a “predictive machine” that is constantly making decisions based on experiences from the past, current experiences, and incoming sensory information. All of this happens subconsciously. You don’t realize it, but when you have a gut feeling about something, you brain has made a connection to a past experience. I find this very interesting.
An article I read in Neuroscience News gave a great example of this. It describes a person driving down a dark road at night, and something tells that person they move slightly over to the right. As they do that they realize they have just bypassed hitting a major pothole. In reality, a car driving in the distance ahead of them moved slightly to the right to avoid that same pothole and without even realizing it, their brain had processed that information.
G. Richard Locke, MD, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN stated, “The gut has more nerve cells than the spinal cord. And although researchers don’t know why yet, there do seem to be people who experience emotions and insights more at a gut level than others.” I never knew the “gut” in gut feeling actually refers to your gut!
So how much intuitive thinking goes into our decision making? I wonder if we even realize the effect it has, since it seems to be subconscious. I think it can be effective when combined with analytical, more deliberate, conscious decision making. I could never make a major decision based solely on a gut feeling. But I wonder how often a gut feeling plays a role in dating or interviewing?
Relying on gut feelings doesn’t always lead to good decisions. Gut feelings can sometimes imply uncertainty. One thing to be aware of, is that along with intuition comes cognitive bias. Cognitive bias is described as “a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one's preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.” Some examples of cognitive bias include:
- Anchoring bias – People rely too much on one, single piece of information instead of researching further.
- Bandwagon effect – One person adapting a belief because a large number of people hold that same belief. This is also called groupthink.
- Clustering bias – The tendency to see patterns in random events.
- Conservative bias – People favor old evidence over new information that has emerged.
- Recency – The opposite of conservative bias. This is when people favor more recent information over older data.
- Salience – The tendency to focus on the most easily recognizable features of a person or idea.
- Stereotyping – Expecting a person to have qualities without having any real information about him/her.
So while I think it would be ineffective to rely solely on intuitive thinking, I do think it can play a role in decision making. I often wonder how many of us use our gut everyday without even realizing it. The book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell looks at the connection between cutting edge psychological and neurological research on human intuition. It looks at why some people can make decisions with a blink of an eye and other have extreme difficulty with decision making.
Intuition is based on past experiences, which if used correctly along with analytical thinking can help you make better decisions. As Geil Browning, Ph.D, the Founder and CEO of Emergenetics International, states, “The more we experience, the more accurate our gut becomes.”
How have you used intuition to guide your decisions? Email me at [email protected].