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The Science of Intuition

Intuition is a prevalent topic discussed in psychology nowadays.

According to Joel Pearson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, intuition does exist and can be measured by researchers.

As the lead author of a recent study Pearson and his colleagues came up with a series of experiments to determine whether people were using their intuition to help guide their decision making or judgment based on their definition of intuition as the influence of "nonconscious emotional information" from the body or the brain, such as an instinctual feeling or sensation.

Measuring intuition

In the experiments, the researchers showed small groups of about 20 college students black-and-white images of dots moving around on one half of a computer screen. The researchers asked the students to decide whether the dots were generally moving to the left or to the right. As the participants made this decision, on the other side of the computer screen, they saw a bright, flashing square of color.

But sometimes, the researchers embedded an image into the colorful square that was designed to trigger an emotional response from the participants. For example, each image was aimed at eliciting either a positive emotion (a puppy or a baby) or a negative emotion (a gun or a snake). However, the participants were not aware that they were being shown these emotional images because they flashed at speeds too fast to be consciously perceived.

These subliminal images were meant to simulate the type of information involved in intuition — they were brief, emotionally charged and subconsciously perceived.

The results showed that when the participants were shown the positive subliminal images, they did better on the task: They were more accurate in determining which way the dots were moving. But they also responded more quickly and reported feeling more confident in their choice.

The experiments also suggested that the participants became better at using their intuition over time, Pearson said. "It's all about learning to use unconscious information in your brain," he said. Just as people can become more comfortable making decisions when they apply logic and reasoning, they may also become more adept at trusting their intuition when they use it more frequently over time, the study revealed.

Intuition can help people make better decisions under the right circumstances, Pearson said. The study showed that information subconsciously perceived in the brain will help with decisions if that information holds some value or extra evidence beyond what people already have in their conscious mind, he said.

Enhance your intuition: Intuition Pro

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