When Intuition Fails

In class we have proven time and time again that as humans our intuition is generally very lousy.  Take the Monty Hall problem for example.  When first confronted with the situation of the three doors and a car behind one of those two doors while goats stood on the other side your automatic instinct is to want to keep which door you have picked afteintuitionr the host opens one of the doors.  In our minds we think that the likelihood of the car being behind the two remaining doors is even so why what harm could sticking to your original decision do?  However, due to our intuition clouding ourjudgement we are unable to see the fact that probability of the car being behind the one remaining door that we did not originally select is in fact double the probability of it being behind the door we initially picked.  The same mentality is applied to gambling.  There is a belief that the harder you throw dice the larger the number you will get.  No scientific evidence has ever proven that but in our minds we think the harder the throw the higher the reward must be.  Our brains are programmed to make these assumptions with no data to support them, and in most cases these conclusions are in fact not accurate.  The real question is that if it has been scientifically proven that we have lousy intuition, why do we still follow it?

The American Psychology Association believes that while very flawed in its reasoning and conclusion drawing skills, intuition is in fact integral in our everyday thinking.  We look to make connections too eagerly and in most cases some are created when in fact no connection exists.  One theory is that our intuition is there to help one make sense of the chaos in the world, in a sense find patterns to help us interpret the chaotic world. Our brain is not able to accept that fact that the majority of what happens in our world is in fact random.  Logic within one’s decision making is often overshadowed by our intuition.  An experimenter by the name of Seymour Epstein from the University of Massachusetts Amherst testing this theory with a simple jelly bean experiment.  elephants-011They asked participants to draw a jelly bean out of a pile with the goal of grabbing a red one.  Each was given the option of two different piles.  One contained 100 total jelly beans with 7 red ones and the other contained 10 total jelly beans with 1 red one.  Despite the probability of picking a red jelly bean was higher in the pile of ten, more people choose to select from the pile of 100 jelly beans.  In this case their gut intuition overpowered their most basic ability to solve a probability problem.  When confronted about their decisions made during the experiment after they had run through it, participants were aware of the higher probability, but their gut intuition was making them believe that just because they saw more jelly beans in the larger pile the probability of selecting one was higher despite the actual lower ratio.  It is as if the brain is in a constant battle within itself.

Despite all of this talk of poor intuition, there are a couple circumstances in which listening to your gut decision is in fact beneficial.  The sensation of something feeling wrong in your body is one of the situations when it will do good to listen to those subtle signals.  Your body is its own line of defense and when something is not right, the first thing is attempts to do is communicate that with the rest of the body.  Another key situation is when you feel that you are in danger.  A process known as thin-slicingtrusting_your_intuitionallows a person to make decisions about someone within the first ten seconds of interaction.  Now however while most of the time this can prove to be helpful, it may also go wrong in the case of inaccurate snap judgments.  When in doubt however it will always provide benefits to compare one’s gut feelings in those situations with rational thought.

1 thought on “When Intuition Fails

  1. Taras Guanowsky

    I think that the failure of human intuition is really fascinating. Just last week, this concept was discussed in my economics class. It seems that humans make poor financial decisions because they value sunk costs in a decision. Sunk costs are the value put into something before it is complete. For example, it is natural for us to continue on with a blog post we can’t find much evidence for just because we already put some time into it. In reality, it is just better to start new. In general, I’d say it is definitely better to question our initial reaction.

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