Learning about intuition

Dear colleagues,

When you should trust your gut reaction and when should you be wary of it? I recently read a fascinating book on intuition: David G. Myers, Intuition: its powers and perils (Yale University Press, 2002).

The book is a popular account of relevant research, citing numerous sources for those who want to check the originals.

Intuition relies on the unconscious mind. Automatic mental processing of routine tasks makes life possible. Some gut reactions can be remarkably good, including expert judgements and creative processes.

On the other hand, intuition can be off beam. Myers covers the perils of intuition about our past and future, about our competence, about reality, and in the areas of sports, investment, risk, and interviewing, among others.

Here are a few quotes.

"People also have a peculiar tendency, when hearing someone say something good or bad about another, to associate the good or bad trait with the speaker." (p. 40)

"Most folks agree that the media affect the culture but deny their effect on them. ... This 'media affect others more than me' phenomenon is so robust that researchers have given it a name - the third person effect. Others, more than us, we think, are affected by ads, political information, media violence, and sexual scripts." (p. 77)

"Nine in ten managers rate themselves as superior to their average peer, as do nearly nine in ten Australians when rating their job performance. In three surveys, nine in ten college professors rated themselves as superior to their average colleague. And most drivers - even most drivers who have been hospitalized after accidents - believe themselves safer and more skilled than the average driver." (p. 95)

"This bias - to underestimate the situation and overestimate inner dispositions when explaining others' behavior - is almost irresistible, especially for those of us socialized in individualist western countries." (p. 111)

"In experiments, as in real life, people who have made a considerable investment in a failing project prefer to continue investing resources, even when they'd never invest if considering this as a new investment on its own merits and even when abandoning the effort is economically rational." (pp. 155-156).

"Why in personnel and student selection is there so great a gap between professional intuition and actuality? ... interviews reveal the interviewee's present intentions, and present intentions are less revealing than habitual behaviors. Intentions matter. People can change. Still, the best predictor of the person we will be is the person we have been." (p. 191)

Brian Martin
11 June 2004

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