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Rational Gut Feelings

Summary: Researchers report intuition is the result of information processing in the brain that results in prediction based on previous experience.

Bad reputation

Have you heard? Relying on intuition has been assumed as fallible, even whimsical as we have been greatly evolved over time in terms of analytic and scientific thinking. Making important decision purely based on gut feelings, without thinking over deliberately and rationally is just unbelievable as well as crazy. In this age of analytic thinking, depending on primitive, intuitive mind just sound incredulously risky.

Consider this

You may be driving on a country road in the dark listening to some music, when suddenly you have an intuition to drive more to one side of the lane. As you continue driving, you notice that you have only just missed a massive pothole that could have significantly damaged your car. You are glad you relied on your gut feeling even if you don’t know where it came from. In reality, the car in the far distance in front of you made a similar small swerve (since they are locals and know the road), and you picked up on this without consciously registering it.

The underlying truth

Emotions are appraisals of your past experiences and thoughts rather than dumb responses, in other words, they can also be considered as a form of information processing in the brain.

Our brains have been suggested by researchers as a larger predictive machine, constantly comparing incoming sensory information and current experiences against stored knowledge and memories of previous experiences to predict what will come next. Scientists call this the “Predictive Processing Framework.”

The framework ensures that the brain is always as prepared to deal with the current situation as optimally as possible. This process happens automatically and subconsciously. When a mismatch occurs (something that wasn’t predicted), your brain updates its cognitive models. So, Intuitions occur when your brain has made a significant match or mismatch but this has not yet reached your conscious awareness.

Biased understanding

That intuition is one of two general modes of thinking, along with analytic reasoning and opposite to analytic thinking style have been often explained in the psychological literature. However, a recent meta-analysis has shown that analytic and intuitive thinking are typically not correlated and could happen at the same time.

Indeed, the two thinking styles are complementary and can regularly be employed together. We need to accept that intuitive and analytic thinking should occur together, and be weighed up against each other in difficult decision-making situations. Even groundbreaking scientific research may start with intuitive knowledge that enables scientists to formulate innovative ideas and hypotheses, which later can be validated through rigorous testing and analysis.

What’s more, while intuition is seen as sloppy and inaccurate, analytic thinking can be detrimental as well. Studies have shown that overthinking can seriously hinder our decision-making process.

How to leverage your intuition

For every situation that involves a decision based on your assessment, consider whether your intuition has correctly assessed the situation. Is it an evolutionary old or new situation? Does it involve cognitive biases? Do you have experience or expertise in this type of situation? If it is evolutionary old, involves a cognitive bias, and you don’t have expertise in it, then rely on analytic thinking. If not, feel free to trust your intuitive thinking.


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