Intuition and decision making – Part2

19 11 2014

By definition, intuition, like our logical processing, is based on past knowledge/experiences (whether we know it or not). So, it may not give you a right answer in a new situation. It is at best a guide. It can be right in some circumstances and wrong in others. David Meyers, an experiential psychologist, in his brilliant book – Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, suggests the context in which context our intuition serves us well and in which it doesn’t. We can trust our intuition when:

  • harnessing the automaticity of everyday life – our implicit learning, memory etc.
  • we have experience based expertise
  • we are reading emotions from others’ faces
  • after letting our distracted or sleeping unconscious mind work on a decision task

We should not trust our intuition when:

  • Buying a lottery ticket
  • Picking stocks to buy
  • Predicting athletic performance from who is currently “hot”
  • Predicting job performance from a casual interview
  • Judging who is lying vs. truth-telling

Sure, it gave me a lot of clarity. Here is a short video (1 hr) by David Meyers on the topic, in which he gives the gist of his book. In the video, he also explains why we intuitively fear the wrong things. He says, we fear

  • What our ancestral history prepared us to fear
  • What we cannot control
  • What’s immediate
  • What’s most readily available in memory (availability heuristic)

Some of the biases that we need to be wary of are:

  • Self-fulfilling prophecy – we tend to behave in ways that make our predictions about something come true.
  • Confirmation bias – we tend to only look at the evidence that confirms our beliefs
  • Overconfidence bias – we generally are overconfident about our predictions and estimations
  • Affective forecasting – we tend to overestimate our  future happiness or otherwise from an event

Obviously, this short list is no way an exhaustive one. Sometimes, I feel so overwhelmed by all these invisible forces acting against me. 😛 Given the amount of reliance people usually put on their intuition, even while making critical decisions, I think we need more convincing on the part of the pitfalls or rather perils of it than its power. 🙂 Nonetheless, in view of its value, it helps us to be more intuitive. So, how can we improve it? It’s pleasantly surprising and heartening to know that New Zealand would like its kids to “reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.” Jamie McKenzie, the editor of an educational technology journal, provides a list of steps that can help students make use of their intuitions:

  1. Clarifying, Demystifying and Defining
  2. Enhancing Awareness and the Ability to Read Intuitions
    1. Meeting new people
    2. Predicting the next move
    3. Sizing up a situation
  3. Testing and Balancing Intuitions against Other Thinking

Read his excellent article here. Practicing meditation and being mindful is an excellent way to improve our intuition. Mindfulness enables us to be in the present, thereby making it more feasible for us to pick up the subtle cues and information around us. Meditation helps us to calm down, bring down the noise inside our heads. This makes it easier for us to listen to our inner self. Being more observant of others and surroundings also helps a lot. This brings to my next question: why are some people more intuitive? Is it a predisposition, a natural inclination? Or is it environment? Like everything else about us, it is a combination of both. Genetics partly shape our ability. But a significant portion of it depends on the kind of environment we are exposed to. Also, as we feel comfortable with a particular way of thinking, we tend to reinforce that behavior by repeatedly preferring it to the other resulting in a positive feedback loop. The popular psychology claims that there is a dominant part of your brain – Are you left-brained or right-brained? Left_Vs_Right_Brain Clearly, intuition is associated with right-brain and logical thinking and analysis with left-brain. But, the recent research indicates that the dominance is a myth and in fact both parts need to work together to solve anything. Nevertheless, we see that some people approach things more in the “right” way and some others more in the “left” way. This article points out that there are biases inherent in both the approaches. Intuition-dominant biases:

  • Overlooking crucial details
  • Expecting solutions to sound in a certain way
  • Not recognizing precise language
  • Believing their level of understanding is deeper than what it is

Logical-dominant biases:

  • Ignoring information they cannot immediately fit into a framework
  • Ignoring their emotions
  • Making rules too strict

People need to use the appropriate approach based on the problem/task at hand. For example, learning a mathematical or science concept should be approached analytically to be more effective, while understanding the emotions needs more of an intuitive approach. It is quite possible that you may not have an intuition in a certain situation. Then, all you have to depend on is concrete data. On the other hand, it is also possible that sometimes, you may not have any or enough data to rely on to make a deliberate decision, or very time pressed to actually make a logical decision. In those cases, you may have to act out of your intuition. I will end this post with an interesting questions: Are women more intuitive than men? If so, why? If not, why the myth is so prevalent? I’ll explore this in a later post. 🙂 Part1 Note: This is a continuation of an earlier post on Effective decision-making.




One response

11 12 2014
Understanding intuition spiritually | Peek Inside My Mind

[…] have been thinking and reading about intuition a lot these days, as you might have realized from my recent posts on the topic. 🙂 The other day, I chanced upon an excerpt from Osho’s book on Intuition. Here […]

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