Intuitive feelings seem mysterious and hard to explain–and most social scientists have steered clear of them.
In Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, Gigerenzer goes a step further by explaining just why our gut instincts are so often right. Intuition, it seems, is not some sort of mystical chemical reaction but a neurologically based behavior that evolved to ensure that we humans respond quickly when faced with a dilemma?
Even books that celebrate rapid judgments why away from ever asking how a gut feeling arises. Rules of thumb provide the answer. They are typically unconscious but can be lifted to the conscious level. Most important, they are anchored both in the involved brain and in the environment. By making use of both evolved capacities in our brain and enviromental structures, rules of thumb and their product–gut feelings–can be highly successful.
- Gut feelings are what we experience. They appear quickly in consciousness, we do not fully understand why we have them, but we are prepared to act on them.
- Rules of thumb are responsible for producing gut feelings. For instance, the mind-reading heuristic tells us what others desire, the recognition heuristic produces a feeling of which product to trust, and the gaze heuristic generates an intuition of where to run.
- Evolved capacities are the construction material foor rules of thumb. For example, the gaze heuristic takes advantage of the ability to track objects. It is easy for human–in contrast to robtos–to track a moving object against a busy background; at three months old, babies have already begun to hold their gaze on moving targets. Thus, the gaze heuristic is simple for humans but not for present-day robots.
- Environmental structures are the key to how well or poorly a rule of thumb works. For instance, the recognition heuristic takes advantage of situations where name recognition matches the quality of products or the size of cities. A gut feeling is not good or bad, rational or irrational per se. Its value is dependent on the ocntext in which the rule of thumb is used.
Two ways to understand behavior
Like other approaches in the social sciences, the science of intuition attempts to explain and predict human behavior. Otherwise, it is unlike many of the other approaches. Gut feelings and rules of thumb are not the same kinds of explanations as fixed character traits, preferences, and attitudes, the key difference being that as mentioned, rules of thumbs are anchored not just in the brain but also in the environment.
Consider two couples, the Concords and the Frictions, who are in many respects similar. Yet the Concords are kind, warm, caring, and get along very well, while the Frictions fight, yell, insult each other, and are on the verge of splitting up.
How can we explain the difference?
According to a widespread account, every person has a set of beliefs and desires, and these are the causes of behavior. For instance, Mr. and Ms. Friction might have sadosmasochistic impulses and derive pleasure from hurting each other, and they simply maximize that pleasure. Alterantively, the couple might not have such desires but might instead have failed to caluclate how they should behave. The first is the rational account and the second the irrational one, both assuming that people rely on mental calculations equivalent to Franklin’s balance sheet. A third account is in terms of personality traits and attitudes, such as an overly aggresive temperament, or a dismissive attitude toward the other sex.
Assume that Ms. Concord, who unconsciouly uses this rule of thumb, is solving a task with her husban for the very first time (caring for their first newborn, shopping for clothes together, or preparing dinner and doing the dishes). Ms. and Mr. Concord are kind to each other on the first occasion. The next time, she imitates his cooperative behavior, he imitates hers, and so on. The result can be a long harmonious relationship. The phrases ‘keep a memory of size one’ means that only the last behavior (kind of nasty) is imitated and needs to be remembered. A relationship can grow if partners are willing to forget mistakes in the past, but not if one partner digs out the same old skeleton from the closet over and over again. In this case, forgetting means forgiving.
Most important, the same rule of thumb can lead to opposite behaviors, kind or nasty, depending on the social environment. If Ms. Concord had married someone with the maxim ‘Always be nasty to your wife, so that she knows who is the boss,’ her behavior would be the inverse. Triggered by her husband’s nasty behavior, she would in turn react nastily to him. Behavior is not a mirror of a trait, but an adaptive reaction to one’s environment.
Complement Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious with Osho on Intuition: Knowing beyond Logic. Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic deals with the difference between the intellectual, logical mind and the more encompassing realm of spirit. Intuition is the highest rung of the ladder, the ladder of consciousness.