When instinct and intellect combine

Decrease text sizeIncrease text size
Article Date: 
Dec 03 2012, 2150

Everyone, not merely managers and executives, makes countless choices daily. Our life, in fact, is shaped by many of the significant and not-so-significant choices we make. How do we choose? How does our experience shape our choice? How do instinct and intellect decide our choices? One of the firm beliefs of modern age is that informed and rational choices are better than instinctual and spontaneous ones.
Prof Marius Usher of Tel Aviv University’s school of psychological sciences and his fellow researchers found that choosing intuition was a surprisingly more powerful and accurate tool than intellect. When forced to choose between two options based on instinct alone, the participants made the right call up to 90 per cent of the time. Prof Usher designed an experiment to put participants through a carefully controlled decision-making process. On a computer screen, participants were shown sequences of pairs of numbers in quick succession. All numbers that appeared on the right of the screen and all on the left were considered a group. In fact, each group of the numbers represented returns on the stock market.
In the experiment reported on November 2012 issue of ScienceDaily, the participants were asked to choose which of the two groups of numbers had the highest average. Since the numbers on the screen changed so quickly — two to four pairs were shown every second — the participants were unable to memorise the numbers or do proper mathematical calculations. The only way to determine the highest average of either group was to rely on “intuitive arithmetic.” The researchers found that the participants were able to calculate the different values accurately at exceptional speed. They were able to process large amounts of data and their accuracy increased in relation to the amount of data they were presented. When shown six pairs of numbers, for example, the participants chose 65 per cent of the time accurately. Contrary to expectations, when they were shown 24 pairs, the accuracy rate grew to about 90 per cent.
This indicates that intuitively, the human brain has the capacity to take in many pieces of information and decide on an overall value, asserts Prof Usher. He opines that gut reactions can be trusted to make a quality decision. Researchers in the same experiment measured the risk-taking tendencies of the participants and discovered that the majority of participants did not play it safe.
In addition, Prof Usher holds that at the intuitive level, an important part of the decision-making process is the “integration of value” — that is, taking into account the positive and negative factors of each option to come up with an overall picture. “The study demonstrates that humans have a remarkable ability to integrate value when they do so intuitively, pointing to the possibility that the brain has a system that specialises in averaging value,” Prof Usher says.
When we consider that we, human beings, have a history extending 80,000 years and our present form of rationality and intellect may be only about 2,000 years old, we need to recognise that there are non-rational elements, which have guided our development and destiny. We need to reassert the role that intuition and affectivity play in our decision-making as well as in our collective journey towards the future. Perhaps, our unconscious urges and collective dreams have to be taken more seriously in our search for wholeness and integrity. Rational analysis and intellectual rigour are not the only means available to us!
(The writer is a professor of science and religion)