How To Know When Your Gut Instinct Is Reliable

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Sometimes you get an overwhelming feeling that you just know something about a person or a situation; this is called intuition, and it’s often wrong.

There is a lot of debate over whether or not we can trust our gut instinct about other people; some people think that we know everything we need to know about a person in an instant. Nobel Memorial Prize-winning behavioural economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman has been fighting against that perception in his work, however, insisting that many of the things we instantly think are true actually have a lot more to do with stereotypes and our own biases.

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ThinkAdvisor reported on a speech Kahneman gave at the world business forum in New York City, where he explained that there are times when the feeling we call “intuition” is correct, but there’s criteria. You have to be able to say yes to these questions to know if you’re right about what you think your gut is telling you.

Is this something you could have learned — and have you practiced learning it?

Our brains love to look for patterns everywhere, so there’s a tendency to make connections where there are none. We try to guess how common something is by recalling past occurrences, so things that rarely happen can seem frequent if they’re big or extremely negative. Ask yourself, is this a situation that has regularity to it? And is it something you have observed enough times to draw conclusions?

Kahneman gives two examples of worlds where there is regularity to learn from—chess playing and a marriage:

“Intuitions of master chess players when they look at the board [and make a move], they’re accurate,” he said. “Everybody who’s been married could guess their wife’s or their husband’s mood by one word on the telephone. That’s an intuition and it’s generally very good, and very accurate.”

The rules of chess are always the same, and anyone in a marriage hopefully has familiarity with their spouse. In a way, our sense of intuition is more learned strategy than a guess. Your choices are being backed up by all sorts of data your brain has been accruing over time. It’s not really a hunch, even if it feels like one.

A marriage is a very specific example; you will learn a lot about someone just by constantly observing and relating to them. You’re putting in the hours. Practice is a deep part of learning instinct, and it’s why someone with a lot of experience with something can be trusted when their gut is telling them something. If you haven’t really practiced something, you don’t actually know.

However, when it comes to a matter of safety, it’s good to listen to yourself. For example, anytime I’m on a date with someone who is giving me bad vibes, I get out of there immediately and will continue to do so. But, I’ve also been on a lot of first dates, and while every person is different, there is a regularity to socially acceptable behaviour when you’re first getting to know someone. What I’m interpreting as an intuitive feeling that someone is being a creep may just be the knowledge of accrued from many interactions with creeps. Think about times when you’ve trusted your gut and why you might have been right—or wrong—based on what you actually knew.

Is your intuition confirmed?

Kahneman says that the only way to really know if you have the intuition of an expert about something is to have your “guess” confirmed, saying you should “know almost immediately whether you got it right or got it wrong.”

What he is arguing for is essentially scientific proof. Everything else is just a guess. Kahneman is basically outlining his criteria because he believes too many people are basing their decision-making on a feeling of confidence that is unjustified. That means confirming their biases, discriminatory practices, and assumptions about the way the world works that are completely incorrect. He’s wise to ask people to reconsider the impulse to categorise the world based on their feelings.

Then again, in situations where your ‘gut’ is telling you that you’re unsafe or that something is seriously wrong, that’s not the time for the scientific method. In those cases, trust your instincts, and get out.

Daniel Kahneman: Your Intuition Is Wrong, Unless These 3 Conditions Are Met | ThinkAdvisor


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