Luck or Intuition? A study conducted by the University of Cambridge showed that financial traders are better at reading their ‘gut feelings’ than the general population – and the better they are at this ability, the more successful they are as traders. Dr Richard Wiseman, author of “The Luck Factor” posit that lucky people are in fact not lucky as such, but that they make successful decisions by using their intuition and gut feelings.
Intuition is often better. There is a wealth of evidence suggesting that unconscious processing i.e. intuition often leads to better decision making, or at least equivalents than those resulting from conscious / thinking process. Fundamentally most our everyday decision-making process is in fact non-conscious. The unconscious mind decides first, and subsequently the conscious mind post-rationalize our choices.
There are two over-arching kinds of decision making.
One requires research and careful thought as to probable outcomes.
The other simply goes with the gut.
It may make sense to stick with the latter in matters of the heart, but a number of recent scientific studies show that in business, the inner voice working in concert with cold, hard information could lead to better decision making.
THE GUT IS FASTER THAN THE MIND
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California tells us that it is important to pay attention to “somatic markers.” Originating in the insula (the island in the brain responsible for social emotions like pride or guilt) and the amygdala (which cues our response to threats), they send messages that something just feels right—or it doesn’t. The more you pay attention to the outcome of trusting your intuition in combination with facts, the better your future decision-making can become.
Damasio tested this theory in an experiment called the Iowa Gambling Task, in which subjects could choose between decks of cards to win money. Among the choices: two “good” decks that turned up consistent profits and two others with riskier cards. Though it took about 50 cards to make a decision to switch decks and 80 cards to explain why, the subjects’ skin was also being monitored for response to stress. The physical reaction showed that after drawing just 10 risky cards, the body was already displaying signs of anxiety, which meant that their feelings were firing signals faster than rational thought.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO WITH YOUR GUT FEELING
Next time you’re at a blackjack table trying to decide whether to hold or hit, just trust your gut.
New research shows that our brains pick up on subliminal signals – a dealer’s tell, for instance – when making risky decisions.
“When you think that you are referring to your intuition, actually you just learn an association between subliminal signals in your context and the outcome of your actions,” says Mathias Pessiglione, a neuroscientist at the Centre for Neuroimaging Research in Paris, France, who led the study.
Doctors and gamblers may be used to trusting their instincts in make-or-break situations, but scientists have had a tough time proving that the brain can learn subconsciously.
To uncover this ability, Pessiglione and colleague Chris Frith, of University College London, tested 20 volunteers with a simple game based on winning and losing small amounts of money.
On a computer screen, the volunteers watched an animated abstract pattern which for a couple of tenths of a second included one of three symbols part way through. Unbeknownst to the subjects, the symbols indicated whether they would lose or gain £1 or break even if they accepted the gamble.
GUT FEELING WINS
“You just see some flickering pattern,” Pessiglione says. Volunteers then had three seconds to decide whether to take the bet. “We just told the subjects to follow their intuition or gut feeling,” he says.
Surprisingly, subjects got better at predicting whether they would win or not, eventually plateauing at slightly above chance, strong evidence that volunteers do not consciously notice the symbols but are affected by them nonetheless.
“If you are conscious, you win much more money, consciously perceive the cues, " Pessigliones says
Under a functional-MRI brain scanner, the researchers found that the subjects appeared to be basing their subconscious choices on activity in an area of their brains involved in conscious risk-taking – the striatum. During the game, a part of the brain involved in processing vision lit up, but only after the activity in the striatum. Pessiglione hypothesises that the striatum tells the vision-processing part of the brain how to pick up on the subliminal symbols linked to winning and losing.
On a HUNCH
“This might now provide an explanation why we often base our decisions on intuitive hunches where a certain option somehow feels right,” says John-Dylan Haynes, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, Germany.
“But we shouldn’t be worried that we could be influenced against our will by such unconscious processes: the study shows that the unconscious brain is intelligent enough to select the best options,” he says.
Journal reference: Neuron (DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.07.005)
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