For Dr. Mills’ Psyc 100 Class, Spring, 2007

Summary of the Powers and Perils of Intuition
Instinct plays a bigger role in our daily lives than most realize. But is it safe to go by that gut feeling? There is definitely ambiguity about the dependability of it, but it is hard to ignore.

Science and life have taught that that intuition is sometimes wrong. Your gut can tell you a lot of things like which way to go right or left. If you know that you are suppose to go right and your gut is telling you to go left you know your gut is wrong. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool” (Einstein’s fellow physicist Richard Feynman).
“Intuitions shape our anxieties, impressions and relationships. They influence the president’s judgments, a gambler’s bets and a personnel director’s hiring decisions. Our gut level intuitions have helped as well as have sometimes enabled misfortunes” (Meyers, pg. 1).
The Powers
A lot of our daily behaviors work outside of conscious awareness (Bargh, pg. 2). “Our consciousness is biased to think that its own intentions and deliberate choices rule our lives. Consciousness overrates its own control. Take something as simple as speaking. Strings of words effortlessly spill out of your mouth with near-perfect syntax” (Meyers, pg. 2).
Reading “Thin Slices”
Sometimes when we see people even just for a couple of seconds on the street we get some idea of they types of people they are. We notice their behavior, we examine them, anything that we can pick up from a glance which can be a lot we use to determine our impression of them.
“There is ancient biological wisdom to express this link between perception and response. When meeting a stranger in the forest, one had to decide: friend or foe? Those who could read a person quickly and accurately were more likely to survive and leave descendants, which helps explain why humans today can distinguish between facial expressions of anger, sadness, fear or pleasure. We can process threatening information in milliseconds.”(Meyers, pg. 3)
Women’s and Men’s Intuitions
Women are known for being more empathetic than men and are more willing to be upfront about their empathy. Women as oppose to men are more likely to show emotion when they see or hear of someone’s sadness or problems. Women seem to have a lot of skill at determining another’s emotions just by looking at them.
The Perils
Because Intuition often wrong people tend to underestimate their own emotions of different situations such as after a romantic breakup. (Gilbert, pg. 4) “We often miswant. Our intuition tells us that if our desired team wins we will be happy for a long time, but studies repeatedly reveal that emotional traces of good tidings evaporate more rapidly than we expect.” Usually after negative events we are wrong about the durability of our emotions. People tested for an illness expect to bad over bad news and good for good news for weeks after hearing the results. This is wrong, after weeks people receiving bad news are less sad than they would have been and not as happy as they would have been in receiving the good news. This is because of the underestimation of “psychological immune system” which includes strategies for rationalizing, discounting, forgiving and limiting trauma. (Gilbert and Wilson, pg. 5)
Intuition isn’t always or for many even usually right.


1. Modern cognitive science is revealing depth of unconscious mind
a. Much of our thinking, feeling, and acting occurs outside conscious awareness
2. Thinking, memory, and attitude operate on two levels
a. conscious/deliberate
b. unconscious/automatic
3. i.e. Speaking
a. Strings of words spilling effortlessly from our mouths

1. Everything is evaluated as good or bad within a quarter of a second
a. Our ancestors who could read a person quickly and accurately was more likely to survive and leave descendants.
b. We often react emotionally before we’ve had time to interpret consciously
1. i.e. Jumping at a rustling in the forest

1. Women generally surpass men at decoding emotional messages
a. Is intuition gap truly intrinsic to gender?
1. More female authors of intuition books; on personality tests, 6 out of 10 men score as logical thinkers and 3 out of 4 women score as “feelers”

1. Long history of challenges to intuition
a. i.e. Sun looks like it revolves around Earth
2. Our intuition is often very vulnerable to mistakes
a. i.e. When hungry we mispredict how much food we need
3. We often don’t accurately predict ourselves
a. i.e. We can’t often predict our emotions
1. People being tested for HIV expect to feel misery over bad news and elation over good news for weeks after hearing the results. And yet, just five weeks later, the recipients of bad news are less distraught and the recipients of good news are less elated than they first anticipated.
4. We neglect our “psychological immune system”
a. We accommodate illnesses, disabilities, romantic breakups and defeats more readily than we intuitively expect.

1. Intuition is bigger than we expect, but also perilous
a. Works well in some areas, but needs restraints and checks in others.
2. Today's cognitive science aims not to destroy intuition but to fortify it