Asked about the origin of his genius, Albert Einstein did not hesitate to answer: “I believe in intuition and inspiration. Sometimes I feel like I’m right even though I don’t know if I’m right yet.”
Better to trust those instincts and test them later than to reject them outright, he told the Saturday Night Post in 1929.
The physicist was not the only one to have this philosophy. It was also, apparently, a big part of Coco Chanel’s strategy. “Fashion is in the air, it is born from the wind. You feel it,” he said.
You can acknowledge the feeling yourself.
Whether you’re looking for a new apartment, considering a possible new job, or judging someone’s honesty, you can have an ineffable intuition when something is right or wrong, without being able to explain why. .
It may be tempting to think of our gut instincts as some sort of mysterious “sixth sense,” but there is no need to appeal to the paranormal to explain intuition.
Over the past two decades, psychologists and neuroscientists have made great strides in identifying its sources and its essential role in our lives.
Along the way, his research has identified the specific situations when our intuition is likely to lead us on the right path and the times when it leads us astray – insights that can help us all make better decisions.
the spirit in the body
The scientific understanding of intuition begins with a lab game known as the “Iowa Game of Chance”.
Participants are dealt four stacks of cards on a computer screen. Each time they flip a card, they receive a monetary reward or penalty.
Two of the decks tend to offer relatively large rewards, but even larger penalties, meaning that over many turns, will lead to a loss. The other two decks offer relatively small rewards but even smaller penalties, meaning they’re the safest choice.
Participants aren’t told which decks will pay off, but after about 40 tries, many people start to get an idea of which decks will pay them the most.
The participants’ unconscious minds have apparently begun to notice the patterns of profit and loss, even though they cannot explain why they are making these decisions. beyond having an “intuition”.
It is important to note that performance improvements often follow systematic physiological changes as participants make their decisions.
When they start playing the riskiest decks, for example, most start to show a stress reaction, like a slight change in heart rate and perspiration on the skin.
These changes, known as “somatic markers”, appear to act as a warning that prevents the participant from making the wrong decision and may underlie the feeling of having an intuition.
Without this kind of intuition, people can run into serious problems in real life.
Some neurological patients are unable to form somatic markers, for example. Without intuition to guide them, they are often caught up in “analysis paralysis” when asked to choose.
And when they make a decision, they don’t see the risks in what they’re doing. They may spend all their money on a bad business proposition, for example, in situations where others would have had a strong instinct of distrust of the business.
Such observations suggest that our intuitions are an essential part of our toolbox for decision-making, which should not be neglected.
The evidence for the importance of intuition is strongest in lie detection studies.
People tend to be more accurate in judging someone’s honesty if asked to do so on instinct than when asked to reflect and verbalize their reasons.
In other situations, the strength of our intuitions will depend on the scope of our experiences.
The unconscious brain digs through its stored knowledge to find the best answer to our problems, without us consciously remembering the specific memories that fuel those feelings.
Vinod Vincent, an associate professor at Clayton State University in Georgia, USA, conducted a study in 2021 in which participants were given sample responses from various job applicants. and asked them to choose the best option.
Some were told to follow their instincts. (“Your decision should be based on your first impression of the candidates,” they were told.)
He asked others to use deliberation, logic and analysis. (“Carefully review all available information before making a decision,” they were told.”Ignore any first impression or a choice based on instinct”).
Undergraduates with no recruiting experience were able to determine which candidates stood out, but after careful consideration, weighing the pros and cons of each. When they tried to use their intuition, they were generally less accurate.
This was not the case with experts who had worked as recruiters; they had very specific instincts for knowing which candidate would be the most suitable, without needing to think through all the different criteria step by step. And the more experience they had, the better off they were.
“If you’re an expert, you’ll know all the quirks that can make a candidate good at the job, even if it’s hard to articulate,” says Vincent.
Vincent points out that people’s instinct should not replace analytical thinkingand we need to be aware that they can sometimes be influenced by unconscious biases, such as racism, age discrimination or sexism.
Overall, however, their research confirms that an expert’s intuitive feelings can be important sources of information and should play some role in the decision-making process.
don’t think too much about it
The power of intuitive decision-making can be especially important when dealing with a large volume of complex information that is too difficult to remember accurately.
In such cases, we can benefit from letting our minds wander to another unrelated activity, while the unconscious brain analyzes the data and makes the decision for us.
In a series of experiments, researchers presented participants with detailed details about a series of apartments.
After forming their first impressions, some of the participants were encouraged to consciously weigh the different options before making your choice.
The others were asked to try out a series of anagrams, a diversion designed to prevent participants from using their analytical processing to make a decision about the apartments.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that participants who thought more carefully about their choice were significantly less likely to choose the apartment that objectively had the most attractive attributes.
His attempts to analyze the various options had clouded his judgmentleading them to choose one of the less desirable options.
People who had been distracted by the anagrams, on the other hand, were forced to rely on their intuitive impressions, which turned out to be more accurate.
Although some studies have indicated that we can follow our first impression immediately, it often seems beneficial to delay the decision while we focus on another activity.
According to Marlène Abadie, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Aix-Marseille in the south of France, the pause allows the unconscious to get a clear picture of the complex information that has been presentedwhich in turn will increase the accuracy of our intuitive judgment.
This guide can be helpful in many similar scenarios where we form our impressions after information overload, she says.
“It could be relevant whenever you have to choose between different consumer products described by different attributes: a cell phone, a computer, a television, a sofa, a fridge or an oven.”
When purchasing these items, you may choose to go have a coffee and leaf through a magazinefor example, before making your final decision.
According to the latest research, the quality of a person’s instincts may depend on their overall emotional intelligence (EI). And by learning to nurture our EI, we can strengthen our intuitive decision-making.
Psychologists assess EI through a series of questions that measure, for example, a person’s ability identify the emotions expressed on the faces of others and its ability to predict changes in a person’s mood, given their situation.
Jeremy Yip, an assistant professor of management at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, recently compared people’s EI scores to their performance in the Iowa gambling game.
While most participants seemed to show a higher stress response when considering choosing the “bad” decks, those with lower EI still misinterpreted their own body signals.
For these low EI participants, a greater stress response seemed to act as an incentive to take risks and ultimately lose. They just didn’t seem to recognize the feeling as a warning.
“They may have misinterpreted the signs as excitement, so they became riskier,” Yip says.
Fortunately, it is possible to form the IE.
Anna Alkozei of the University of Arizona in Tucson, USA, recently designed an online course with modules that encourage students to think more carefully about how different emotions can be perceived and how feelings such as physiological arousal can influence decision making. .
Taking two lessons a week for three weeks, Alkozei participants showed a significant improvement on a test of IE, and this resulted in better performance on the Iowa game. Participants in a control group, who instead took an online environmental course, showed no such improvement.
If you want to hone your intuition, you can first try to get in touch with your emotions more broadly, carefully questioning yourself about exactly what you are feeling and the sources of that mood.
Over time, you may find it easier to discern when you receive a genuine signal and precise.
Your instinct will never be completely infallible, but with practice it can become an important guide.