Sometimes, the logical approach yields no fruit, or the fruit is kind of sad-looking and a bit squishy. That’s usually when we demand an answer from our abdominal organs, even though the processing capabilities of one’s appendix is questionable, especially if it has been removed. Despite all, well, logic, a small study has shown that thinking with your digestive tract can be beneficial in moderation.
The study, conducted by the University of Chicago, gathered 294 psychology students and asked them to complete two tests — one involving “artificial grammar” where participants had to quickly memorise and reproduce a series of letter sequences, then look at another set of sequences and determine which ones followed the same construction “rules” as the ones they had memorised.
The second was a “Remote Associates Task”, or RAT test. For this, the students were shown 20 sets of three regular words and then asked to name a fourth that would form a “common English phrase” when combined with them.
Of the 294 subjects, 153 spoke only English, while the other 141 either spoke two languages or had English as their second language. They were split into two groups — monolingual and bilingual / non-native speakers — to further increase the role their “gut” played in solving the problems. The groups were then divided again to allow a change in the order of the tests, to rule out any bias from the cognitive effects of the tests themselves.
Finally, they were split again, so that one set of tests would ask the subjects to use their “gut” when solving the problems, while the other set would be asked to think out solutions logically.
The results did show a noticeable difference, but not a massive one. From the paper:
… completion of an Artificial Grammar Task including the standard “use your gut” instruction before the RAT does enhance performance on the RAT for monolingual solvers. Interestingly, this effect does not seem to be due to the implicit processing style prompted by the Artificial Grammar Task itself, but
rather to the “use your gut” instruction … These results suggest that the inclusion of the “use your gut” instruction is encouraging participants to use a less analytic approach when solving the RAT.
How this knowledge can be applied to the real world is the big question and I’d definitely like to see a similar study with a larger sample size. But for now, it might be time to buy a stethoscope and listen more closely to the wise words of your intestines as they process your lunch.
Firing the Executive: When an Analytic Approach to Problem Solving Helps and Hurts [The Journal Of Problem Solving, via Reddit]
Image: Tomasz Stasiuk / Flickr