August 29, 2007


Through Analysis, Gut Reaction Gains Credibility (CLAUDIA DREIFUS, 8/29/07, NY Times)

Two years ago, when Malcolm Gladwell published his best-selling “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” readers throughout the world were introduced to the ideas of Gerd Gigerenzer, a German social psychologist.

Dr. Gigerenzer, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, is known in social science circles for his breakthrough studies on the nature of intuitive thinking. Before his research, this was a topic often dismissed as crazed superstition. Dr. Gigerenzer, 59, was able to show how aspects of intuition work and how ordinary people successfully use it in modern life. [...]

Q: O.K., let’s start with basics: what is a gut feeling?

A: It’s a judgment that is fast. It comes quickly into a person’s consciousness. The person doesn’t know why they have this feeling. Yet, this is strong enough to make an individual act on it. What a gut instinct is not is a calculation. You do not fully know where it comes from.

My research indicates that gut feelings are based on simple rules of thumb, what we psychologists term “heuristics.” These take advantage of certain capacities of the brain that have come down to us through time, experience and evolution. Gut instincts often rely on simple cues in the environment. In most situations, when people use their instincts, they are heeding these cues and ignoring other unnecessary information.

Q: In modern society, gut thinking has a bad reputation. Why is that?

A: It is not thought to be rational.

Reason is the tool folks use to talk themselves out of what they know to be right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2007 8:07 AM

Gut feeling? I always thought it meant an instant scan of the sum total of information stored in one's memory which instead of bothering with the head where it knows it'll get a lot of flack and doubt, goes directly for the gut which conveys the answer without a lot of blather.

Similar to good test takers who go with the first answer that pops into their heads and seldom change it without a really compelling reason.

For this to work, in both instances, there must already be a substantial database in place.

Posted by: erp at August 29, 2007 10:21 AM

"For this to work, in both instances, there must already be a substantial database in place."

Precisely. You have to have had experiences first which allows your instinct to tell you which way to go. You may not know why one is right and another is wrong, but the gut scan will provide those similarities and tell you where to go.

Think of it as the "Miss Marple Village Parallel Decision System".

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2007 1:40 PM

We should like to now whether the data supports a finding of correlation between successful intuitive thinking and general cortical efficiency.

My own "gut feeling" is that intuitive thinking is just like thinking, but faster, in much the same way that rapid fire shooting is like slow fire shooting, only more rapid.

Now a disciplined mind, one which has mastered the exclusion of the unimportant, should be expected to enjoy an advantage in quick judgements beyond that accruing only to a superior g-factor. This is something which is earned by rigorous application.

Nonetheless, I do not believe that quick thinking is part of the pathetic fallacy of multiple intelligences theory. Rather Ich lehre euch den Uebermenschen.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 29, 2007 4:44 PM

Yes, well, let's forget that gut feelings can have their downsides as well. What percent of the people in prison for assualt wouldn't be there if they had ignored their gut feeling about what to do and relied on reason instead?

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 29, 2007 6:51 PM

120% Assault is perfectly reasonable.

Posted by: oj at August 29, 2007 9:55 PM

Gut feelings are just shortcuts to rational thought, not the kind of knee-jerk emotional reactions which might lead to assault.

Posted by: erp at August 30, 2007 8:55 AM

"Q: Some of your critics say that gut instincts just aren’t scientific. What’s your answer?

A: We study these things, where intuition is good and where it’s not. One should also not overlook that in science itself, you need intuitions. All successful research scientists function, to a degree, on gut instincts. They must make leaps, whether they have all the data or not. And at a certain moment, having the data doesn’t help them, but they still must know what to do. That’s when instinct comes in."

A lot of that's going on with global warming theory right now. Unfortunately, where the "science" comes in is the fixing the numbers and events to suit the theory, Re: the hockey stick.

A successful CEO of a major corporation famously
said: "If we don't make the right decision, we make it [the decision] right." Almost destroyed the company in so doing, but he eventually made it right. Let's not consider the cost. The same may go for carbon sequestration/trading.

Posted by: Genecis at August 30, 2007 12:47 PM