You're driving home from school and spontaneously decide to take a route that you usually don't take. You have a random and compelling urge to call a friend or loved one. You take a hopeful guess on a test question. All of us have experienced those strange gut feelings that cause us to make decisions one way or another. We've all heard of the advice to, "go with your instincts" when making hard choices. I know in my personal experience, I find that listening to such advice generally results in a good outcome. Why would this be?
From the information presented in the article, The Role of Emotion in Decision Making, it begins to be apparent what exactly these intuitive feelings are and what their role is in the process of decision-making. Decision-making occurs not only in the rational and logical weighing of pros and cons performed by the conscious self, but also in a sub-cortical process that involved the amygdala (emotional brain center). When the brain is faced with a decision, it automatically weighs the possible outcomes on an emotional and unconscious level. Somatic states that were triggered for specific behaviors in the past become triggered again as the brain processes all of these possible plans of action, and that "gut feeling" is produced as a compilation of the many emotional outcomes the brain has quickly processed.
This understanding of that intuitive decision-making tool we all utilize at some point is a fascinating thing to think about. Many people like to logic their way rationally through decisions because it is a way to consciously see the future outcome. It appears that intuition is really a result of the same pro/con process, except for emotionally, without you being able to consciously compare those outcomes. It seems like learning to follow these gut feelings could lead to a better decision-making process, but even this brings about more questions. Are there situations where following intuition is not good, or even dangerous? Is this intuitive neural process the same that allowed the researchers to predict Marcus du Sautoy's behaviors 6 seconds before he acted (BBC, The Secret You). Do animals that have no sense of self live a life where every action is orchestrated through the same gut-feeling sensation? If so, to what extent does the presence of that second rational/logical pathway define our human self? Do apes that also demonstrate having a sense of self act on both logic and gut feelings for decision-making?
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