Why we're almost every time right with our gut instincts
For centuries, scientists have studied how both instinct and intellect figure in the difficult task of choosing, now new research suggests that the old truism "look before you leap" may be less true than previously thought.
In a behavioral experiment, Prof. Marius Usher of Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences and his fellow researchers found that intuition was a surprisingly powerful and accurate tool.
When forced to choose between two options based on instinct alone, the participants made the right call up to 90 percent of the time.
In the experiment, participants were shown sequences of pairs of numbers in quick succession on a computer screen.
All numbers that appeared on the right of the screen and all on the left were considered a group; each group represented returns on the stock market.
Participants were asked to choose which of the two groups of numbers had the highest average.
Because the numbers changed so quickly they had to rely on "intuitive arithmetic," Usher said.
"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 specializes in averaging value," Prof Usher said.
The participants were able to calculate the different values accurately at exceptional speed, they were also able to process large amounts of data - in fact, their accuracy increased in relation to the amount of data they were given.
Of course, intuition is also subject to certain biases, Usher explained, and leads to more risks - risks that people are willing to take.
That was shown when the researchers engaged participants in tests that measured their risk-taking tendencies, and were surprised to discover that the majority of the participants didn't play it safe.
When faced with a choice between two sets of numbers with the same average, one with a narrow distribution, such as 45 and 55, and another with a broad distribution, such as 70 and 30, people were swayed by the large numbers and took a chance on the broadly distributed numbers rather than making the "safe" choice.
The results of the study has been published in the journal PNAS.