The Science Of Intuition

What Is Intuition?

Sixth sense… premonition… ESP… hunch… gut feeling….

These are all different ways we describe our experience of “intuition.”

But what is intuition exactly?

The Huffington Post describes it as:

“that unconscious reasoning that propels us to do something without telling us why or how”

John Kounios, psychology professor at Drexel University, says:

“It’s the product of unconscious information processing.”

Sophy Burnham, author of The Art of Intuition, defines it as:

“the subtle knowing without ever having any idea why you know it. It’s different from thinking, it’s different from logic or analysis… It’s a knowing without knowing.”

Pope Francis refers to intuition as a “gift,” which is particularly strong in women.

These and other definitions of intuition consistently point out that intuition is knowledge that’s not made by the rational mind. Rather, it occurs unconsciously.

Is Intuition Scientific?

Hundreds of scientific experiments have been made to study intuition. It’s now a scientifically recognized concept.

William Duggan, author of Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement, says “intuition is real; it comes from memory.”

As observes, intuition is a “very real ability.” Its manifestations have been observed, measured, and recorded in scientific experiments.

Intuition is gaining so much recognition from the scientific community that in 2012, the US Navy allocated $3.85 million for research to investigate how intuition works. The Office of Naval Research said:

“Research in human pattern recognition and decision-making suggest that there is a ‘sixth sense’ through which humans can detect and act on unique patterns without consciously and intentionally analyzing them.”

Here are some of the main findings of intuition research:

Research Shows: We process information unconsciously

For humans to survive millions of years in the wild, it was necessary for our minds to process information – and draw life-saving conclusions – instantaneously. As explains:

“Shortcuts like these were probably an evolutionary survival mechanism that allowed us to react quickly to dangerous external stimulus. Everything about the environment – what you see, feel, smell and touch – is instantaneously computed.”

A number of studies show we have the ability to process and make sense of information unconsciously. For example, a study by the Columbia University Medical Center found that subjects’ brains displayed anxiety when they saw faces expressing fear, even when the images were flashed too quickly for them to consciously see them.

In an experiment known as the Iowa Gambling Tasks subjects had negative emotional responses to a losing card deck long before they became consciously aware that it was a bad deck.

Other studies show test subjects performed tasks better when their conscious minds were distracted, than when they paid conscious attention fully.

Our unconscious minds work overtime and can give us insights while we sleep. In 2011, Rebecca Spencer, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, co-authored a study on the role of REM sleep. They found that REM sleep, which occurs in a regular night’s sleep, helped subjects with problem solving and decision making.

Research Shows: Intuition is sometimes better than logic

Research has also shown that intuition can serve us in practical ways, by helping us solve problems and achieve our goals. Sometimes it can work better than logic.

In one study, women were instructed to eat “intuitively.” That is, they relied on their internal satiety meter to determine when and how much to eat. They were found to have lower body mass index than women who went on diets restricting their calories.

A similar study, published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2005, found that women who practiced eating intuitively over two years maintained their weight, had higher self-esteem and levels of physical activity, and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure than women who dieted.

These findings suggest we may intuitively know our own bodies better than we realize.

Even in business, intuition plays a key role. Steve Jobs, John Borthwith (who invested in successes like Tumblr and Tweetdeck), and other successful entrepreneurs followed their intuition to innovate and make investment decisions. Intuitive consultant Sonia Choquette, who’s also the author of Trust Your Vibes at Work, suggests getting your facts straight then “turn them over to your intuitive percolator.”

Research Shows: Mind reading is real.

Intuition isn’t only about a person gaining knowledge about herself and her surroundings. We also use our intuition to know about each other. Psychology Today refers to it as “mindsight” or “empathic accuracy”, which it defines as “the seemingly magical ability to map someone’s mental terrain from their words, emotions and body language.”

But research shows, our ability to read each other goes beyond interpreting words, emotions, and body language.

Researchers Radin and Schlitz, authors of “Gut Feelings, Intuition, and Emotions: An Exploratory Study,” did a meta-analysis of previous studies. They concluded that, based on evidence, “people can mentally influence each other’s physiologic states in ways that transcend conventional models of human interaction.”

Their own research showed that subjects could influence the “gut feelings” of their partners, who were in a separate room 15 meters away. Receivers could not see nor hear the senders, so they could not have been influenced by their words, feelings, or body language.

Radin and Schlitz concluded the results supported their hypothesis that “one person’s gut feelings can respond to a distant person’s positive and sad emotions.”

These studies support what scientists claim, that individual consciousness is but part of a larger consciousness. For example:

“Premonitions suggest that we are linked with every other consciousness that has existed, does exist, or will exist, that we are part of something larger than the individual self.”
– Larry Dossey,  MD, in “The Power of Premonition,”
published in Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness, Summer 2009

“Each person enfolds something of the spirit of the other in his consciousness.”
– David Bohm, physicist

“To divide or multiply consciousness is something meaningless.
There is obviously only one alternative, namely the unification of minds or consciousness . . . in truth there is only one mind.”
– Erwin Schrödinger, winner, 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics

The Bottom Line

Intuition is a real way of knowing. Its presence and effects have been studied and measured by scientific research.

Although we have much yet to know about intuition, we know enough to rely not only on reason and logic when we make decisions or solve problems. We know enough to also harness the power of intuition.

To ignore intuition would be like driving a car with blinders on the side of your face. Your vision is limited and you could make costly mistakes.