From the TV sitcom Cheers:Intuition is a very common decision making process, most of us at some time make use of our “gut instincts”. Often intuition is assumed to be the opposite of thoughtful rational thinking, and it is – however, sometimes our intuition serves us remarkably well.
Norm: Woody, do you believe in intuition?
Woody: No, though I have a strong feeling that someday I might.
Intuition is defined as “the direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.” Where rational thinking can be slow, reflective and involve a lot of work, intuition can be applied quickly and with much less deliberation and cognitive investment. Intuition relies heavily upon perception; unfortunately our perceptions may often be false. Upon going with our gut, reasoning may then simply come into play in rationalizing our decisions. This causes us to use our cognition instead to support a bad decision based on the misperceived or incorrect observation.
However, studies of decision making based on intuition have shown that this rapid-fire and low cognitive cost thinking process can yield effective results. Over time much of our decision making is based on our previous experiences. For example, let’s say you need to determine how many gallons of paint will be required to paint your living room. Knowing the square footage each can of paint covers, you can measure the room and calculate the number of gallons required depending on the total surface area of wall to be painted. However, a professional painter may be able to more accurately predict the number of gallons required simply upon walking in and looking at the room. Here a low cognitive investment has yielded an accurate result.
The dangers with relying on intuition are obvious, however. Decisions can not only be rendered based on misperception, but also our cognitive bias’ can come into play as well. The implication is that intuition can be strongly influenced by wishful thinking; driving our decisions toward satisfying a possibly unconscious desire.
Here is where the importance of reasoning comes into play – humans are not well adapted to applying logic, probability, and decision theory without special training. More abstract problems are not easily linked to personal experience. It may also be subject to other outside influences such as peer pressure; the “Band Wagon” effect.
Consider, jury duty, for example. In a criminal trial the bar for rendering a guilty verdict is confidence “beyond a reasonable doubt”. I have served on juries where it was abundantly clear to me that some jurors took “reasonable doubt” to mean that they believed in their heart-and-soul that the accused was guilty. Yet when asked to justify their decision, they were unable to articulate any factual elements which supported their decision – they just “knew” the accused was guilty.
We all have been exposed to the differing responses expressed by different factions of public opinion from some of the more prominent criminal trials in recent history – from OJ Simpson to Casey Anthony, they illustrate the critical importance of distinguishing difference between intuition and rational thinking.
Intuition and Reasoning: A Dual-Process Perspective, Jonathan St B T Evans