How to decide on what doors to go through in life.
How to decide on what doors to go through in life.
“The two operations of our understanding, intuition, and deduction, on which alone we have said we must rely in the acquisition of knowledge.”
Besides past, conscious experiences that we’ve forgotten about, intuition can also be built on information that we’ve never experienced consciously. Just because we don’t experience something consciously does not mean that our brain hasn’t picked up on it. Nor does it mean that it doesn’t influence how we feel or think.
In one study, Hassin and his colleagues presented participants with a math equation, such as “9–5–3”. The caveat was that they presented it in such a way that participants weren’t consciously seeing it by using a technique called “Continuous Flash Suppression”.
Shortly after, the participants saw a number. This time consciously. This number was either the ‘right’ answer to the equation or the wrong answer to the equation. Results of the study show that participants were significantly faster in responding to the number when it was the right answer to the equation (that they didn’t see consciously) compared to when it was the wrong answer. The researchers say this indicates that the equation had already been processed by their minds, even though they weren’t conscious of it.
In other words, our brain is processing stimuli for us in the background. Meaning that you may intuitively dislike that new colleague so much because you’ve subconsciously picked up on their negative body language or any other warning signs.
Another study shows that our body subconsciously may know more than we think — going as far as suggesting that our hearts may be able to look into the future and send us signals ahead of time.
2 groups of participants were shown 2 sets of images. One group looked at neutral images (e.g, fruit), while the other looked at emotionally invoking images (e.g., scary or sexual images). Researchers then measured the heart and brain activity of the participants.
Results show that the hearts of participants who looked at emotionally invoking images were showing a response up to 6 seconds before the brain registered the images while the participants of the neutral group did not show this pattern. Dr. Rollin McCraty of Heartmath said that this is “evidence that the heart is directly involved with the processing of information about a future emotional stimulus seconds before the body actually experiences the stimulus.”
One might conclude that our “intuition” is our body’s way to prepare us for what’s to come because it already knows what’s next.
Intuition sounds great when you read the studies above. Almost like a magical power helping us when we need it. But it’s not that simple. Subconscious information may not always have your best interest at heart.
When we rely on subconscious information to steer us, it’s important that the information actually helps us. But that’s not always the case. In one study, psychologists used what they call ‘priming’ to influence people’s ‘intuition’. Priming is using certain stimuli to influence people’s decisions without them being aware of it.
For this study, researchers played music from a specific country (France or Germany) in a supermarket. They then measured how much wine was sold, along with which type. Specifically, they had a look at how much French wine versus how much German wine was bought, while both wines had the same label and price.
The result? On days where French music was played, 77% of the wine sold was French. On days where German music was played, 73% of the wine sold was German. Meaning, people were 3 to 4 times more likely to buy a wine that matched the music in the store. This occurred without participants being aware of it, as shoppers were tested afterward to see if they felt the music had any influence on their choices. This was not the case.
These shoppers may have felt like they were in control. Like their intuition was telling them to buy either French or German wine. But in reality, they were influenced by their environment without them realizing it. And it wasn’t necessarily in their best interest.
In another experiment, psychologists at Yale altered people’s judgments of a stranger through a cup of coffee. On their way to the experiment, a confederate bumped into the participant. They dropped some of their stuff and when they went to pick it up, they asked the participant to hold their cup of coffee. In one condition, the coffee that participants had to hold was ice cold, while it was very warm in the other condition.
Afterward, each participant had to assess the character of a hypothetical person based on a small text. The participants that just held iced coffee rated this person as being much colder, less social, and more selfish in comparison with the participants that held warm coffee even though the description of the person was the same.
This isn’t a one-off. It’s what’s referred to in psychology as embodied cognition: the idea that influencing our body also influences our mind. Similar results have been found with a smell of citrus leading to more cleaning behavior and sitting on a hard chair leading to more rigid negotiations versus sitting in a comfortable chair.
Lastly, while our experiences may be good input for our intuition, they may not always be relevant in our current context. Certain context variables may be different which renders our previous experiences useless. Or we may have had only a few similar experiences, which doesn’t mean that those situations will always play out as they did in the past.
Based on the research above, intuition can guide us effectively in situations where we’re not sure what to do. However, it can also cause us harm. Below are 3 tips to use your intuition effectively.
Deciding on a vacation destination but you’ve never been traveling before? Best to lay off the intuition and do some rational research. The more limited our experience is in a given situation, the less likely our intuition is to be right because it doesn’t have much information to go on. When deciding whether to trust your intuition or not, reflect on how much experience you have in similar contexts and decide whether you should trust yourself.
To use intuition effectively, we must use the available information as objectively as we can. Even if this is happening subconsciously. Otherwise, we may start making irrational decisions such as buying a certain brand of wine based on the music that is playing.
Researchers have argued that effectively tapping into subconscious information requires us to be in a calm or neutral mood, as it’s documented that emotional people have more difficulties making decisions.
If there’s a very small chance of something happening, then we should realize that our intuition is very susceptible to bias and use our rational mind to overrule intuitive thoughts. Even if our intuition is telling us something, it’s very unlikely that it’s going to overrule hard statistics in the form of chance. Hence, we should only trust our instinct when the chances of an outcome are realistic in practice.