Intuition does help resolve Christmas gift dilemmas
When it comes to those last-minute gift-buying decisions for family and close friends, intuition may be the best way to think your way through to that perfect gift, researchers say.
When faced with tough decisions, some people like to "trust their gut" and go with their intuition. Others prefer to take an analytical approach.
According to Boston College Professor Michael G. Pratt, new research shows that intuition can help people make fast and effective decisions, particularly in areas where they have expertise in the subject at hand.
When it comes to holiday shopping, it might help to draw on the expertise you've accumulated about your family, and friends.
"We often ask ourselves, 'What does that special someone want for Christmas?' Maybe the better question to ask is 'What do I know about this person?" Pratt said.
"The chances are you know a lot. You know a lot about your parents and your children, and your close friends. What we've found is that kind of deep expertise helps to support decisions we make when we trust our gut," he said.
In recent experiments, Pratt and his fellow researchers examined how well-served we are when we make decisions intuitively or through a more analytical approach, said Pratt, who recently co-authored a new report about intuitive decision-making.
The researchers said the knock on intuition stems from earlier studies that examined intuition in the context of very structured, multi-step decisions in areas such as math or logic.
Analytic decisions are great for breaking things down into smaller parts, which is necessary for a math problem. But intuition is about looking at patterns and wholes, which is needed when making quick decisions about whether something is real or fake, ugly or pretty, right or wrong.
"Similarly, for gift buying, there is not 'one right answer' as with a math problem," Pratt said.
"It is a judgment call," he said.
Pratt, along with researchers Erik Dane, of Rice University and Kevin W. Rockmann, of George Mason University conducted two experiments to test both methods as a means of making a basic decision, or one that doesn't break down into a subset of smaller tasks. In each experiment, one set of respondents was asked to think intuitively in a short amount of time. A second set was asked to take more time and use an analytical approach.
For example, in one experiment, men and women were asked to decide whether a designer handbag was "real" or "fake". Among subjects who had owned several brand-name satchels, intuitive respondents were able to make quick and effective judgments about the items.
"If you're looking at those shiny new winter shovels for your spouse, ask yourself, 'Is this right or wrong?' and trust your gut. You'll be well served by your intuition," Pratt said.
"It's likely that your spouse doesn't want a shovel and you don't want to be the one who gives that gift," he added.