Trust your instincts if nothing else


Since reading Malcom Gladwell’s book, ‘Blink’ I have become considerably more comfortable in my own ability to make the ‘correct’ decision as a ‘snap judgement’, instinctual response, emotional or anger, practical or in practical, right or wrong. It would seem for me anyway that my  instinct has been proven right on many occasions which can only fill ‘me’ with more confidence about the ‘inner workings’ of ‘me’ as a person.

It’s only if I allow time to doubt myself that it all goes horribly wrong (some would argue my whole life is horribly wrong). Malcom, through many studies and examples gives a convincing case that our instinct is ‘mostly’ the correct response in any given situation. It is a great book, not huge, so a easy swift read. He also has a web site, and Blog (blog is lacking in recent entries). The book will no doubt leave you feeling a lot more self assured. That’s ofcourse if your instincts have generally been spot on. If not, then maybe you should give it a miss! :0)

This following study from University College of London, reinforces this understanding of the human mind.

SOURCE: ScienceDaily
ADAPTED FROM: University College London

Trust your instincts if nothing else

A UCL (University College London) study has found that you are more
likely to perform well if you do not think too hard and instead trust
your instincts. The research, published online in the journal Current
Biology, shows that, in some cases, instinctive snap decisions are more
reliable than decisions taken using higher-level cognitive processes.

Participants, who were asked to pick the odd one out on a screen
covered in over 650 identical symbols, including one rotated version of
the same symbol, actually performed better when they were given no time
at all to linger on the symbols and so were forced to rely entirely on
their subconscious.

Dr Li Zhaoping, of the UCL Department of
Psychology, said: "This finding seems counter-intuitive. You would
expect people to make more accurate decisions when given the time to
look properly. Instead they performed better when given almost no time
to think. The conscious or top-level function of the brain, when
active, vetoes our initial subconscious decision — even when it is
correct — leaving us unaware or distrustful of our instincts and at an
immediate disadvantage. Falling back on our inbuilt, involuntary
subconscious processes for certain tasks is actually more effective
than using our higher-level cognitive functions."

The study
shows an instance when our rational mind is more likely to perform
worse than our subconscious — but the conscious mind still tends to
veto the subconscious.

Ten participants were asked to locate the
only back to front version of a repeated symbol on screen and were
given between zero and 1.5 seconds from the moment their eyes had
landed on the odd one out to scrutinize the image. Participants had to
decide whether the odd one out was on the left or the right-hand side
of the screen. The researchers found that participants scored better if
they were given no scrutinizing time at all.

With only a tiny
fraction of a second for scrutinizing the target, subjects performed
with 95 per cent accuracy. With over a second to scrutinize the image,
subjects were only 70 per cent accurate. With more than four seconds,
accuracy was recovered.

In this test, the instinctive decisions
were more likely to be correct because the subconscious brain
recognises a rotated version of the same object as different from the
original, whereas the conscious brain sees the two objects as
identical. For the conscious brain, an apple is still an apple whether
rotated or not. So while the lower-level cognitive process spots the
rotated image as the odd one out, the higher-level function overrides
that decision and dismisses the rotated object because it is the same
as all the other symbols. When subjects were given the time to engage
their higher-level functions, their decisions were therefore more
likely to be wrong.

Dr Zhaoping said: "If our higher-level and
lower-level cognitive processes are leading us to the same conclusions,
there is no issue. Often though, our instincts and higher-level
functions are in conflict and in this case our instincts are often
silenced by our reasoning conscious mind. Participants would have
improved their performance if they had been able to switch off their
higher-level cognition by, for example, acting quickly."

participants’ eye movements, the team controlled the time allotted to
each individual’s search for their target. The visual display screen
was switched off at various time intervals either before or after the
subjects’ eyes landed on the target. When the on-screen image was
hidden immediately after the subjects’ eyes had landed on the target,
the subjects often believed they were just guessing where the odd one
out was. They were unaware that their gazes had shifted to the target
just before the image was hidden and their answers weren’t guesswork at

Dr Zhaoping said: "Our eye movements are often
involuntary. What seems like a random darting of the eye is often an
essential subconscious scanning technique that allows us to pick out
unique and distinctive features in a crowd — such as colour or
orientation. Soon after our eyes have fixed on a target, the conscious
or top-down part of cognition engages and examines whether the
candidate really is the target or not. If the target is not distinctive
enough in the ‘eyes’ of the conscious, failure of identification can


Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University College London.


Written by: Graham Smith: The Logo Smith
1st Posted: 2007/01/16 & Post Updated: 2014/05/09
Filed In Categories: Reviews

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