Whether you call it a hunch or vibes, a reckoning or a feeling in your bones, humans know the power of a nagging suspicion. Malcolm Gladwell's Blink stands as testament to the fact that snap decisions often turn out much smarter than those following a thorough think. Now, neuroscientists say they've not only proven what they call "subliminal learning" scientifically, but have found the brain area involved.
The researchers, who are based at University College London, set up a computer game in which study subjects could win money. Players saw strange, complex symbols on a computer screen, and were told to predict which symbols consistently led to payout, and which led to penalty. Yet it was impossible to tell the symbols apart. The researchers designed them to look, to the conscious mind, identical. "Just follow your gut feelings," the game instructions coached, "and you will win, and avoid losing, a lot of pounds!" Despite the challenge, subjects did manage to learn how to win—guided, apparently, by their instinct.
The team then measured brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, as subjects went through the experiment. What lit up was a structure called the ventral striatum. Located near the center-front of the brain, this region has surfaced in many other studies as a major player in learning motivated by reward.
The notion that our subconscious can drive smart decisions is nothing new to non-scientists and scientists alike. In 1911, seminal animal intelligence researcher Edward Lee Thorndike had a hunch that if dogs and cats could learn without reasoning, so could humans. But remarkably, it took nearly a century to act on those suspicions—or rather, to design an experiment that could adequately test it.
The study appears in the current issue of the journal Neuron.
Beign a student, I agree 50% with the theory. They always tell us to go with the first answer we think of. But then again, some teachers say to go over your answers and change those who you doubted. But isn't that contracting what you did in the first place?
I tend to be an intuitive thinker, and I have found that if I have a strong intuitive feeling about an answer I go with it, and it is usually correct. If I have a doubts then I need to slow down and rationalize my answer differently. Intuition doesn't help me very much on pure math for instance, but in troubleshooting logic problems (such as code bugs )it is very effective. I think the trick is to know when to switch.
The study shows only that participants in this study who went with their intuition could earn points by subconsciously discriminating between similar symbols: generalizing to real-world experiences is unwise at best.
The limits of intuition and common sense are well-known: hindsight bias, confirmation bias, overconfidence, and people tend to remember the "hits" and forget the "misses" when deciding whether a strategy they are invested in (belief) works or not.
I think it all comes down to common sense. Trust yourself with making decisions that you have previous experience from.
I always go with my gut instinct. I didnt twice - instead a belived the other person and twice I lived to regret it!
Interesting research - just goes to show the brain is much more complex than we will ever know. If we even had an inkling of the power of the brain, it would blow our minds.