The science of listening to your guts

– Leisha Senko, staff

It’s easy to shrug off the notion of intuition. It’s flowery, vague and is often attributed to fortune tellers and mystics. The truth, though, is that there may be more to our seemingly snap, random judgements than meets the eye. From the young woman who always had a bad feeling about the abusive man down the street, to the gentleman who received an intensely bad vibe from the corner-cutting engineer, a lot of the gut feelings that we chalk up to miss-firing receptors might in fact have a very concrete explanation.

Take, for example, the existence of the ‘uncanny valley,’ a term coined by robotics professor Masahiro Mori. This theory is that we have empathy for other creatures, even robots wildly different from ourselves; but as they enter into a range of appearance and movements that are almost human but not quite, we are automatically repulsed. This development seems to suggest that there are innate mechanisms within us which set off alarms when things, even unconsciously, strike us as ‘not quite right.’ This isn’t to say we have carte blanche to wave around our biases, but rather, when something feels wrong with no other reasonable explanation, we might want to think a bit harder about it.

Most people by now understand that the vast majority of our communication is non-verbal with words accounting for approximately seven percent of meaning. According to sociologist A. Barbour, 38 per cent of that communication is vocal and 55 per cent consists of movement. This is a striking number as it relays strongly the idea that there is language we, as humans, speak that is intuitive, primal and very telling – one which can easily be overlooked or misunderstood.

According to Professor Gerard Hodgkinson of the Centre for Organizational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School, ‘intuition’ is the direct result of how humans process and store information. He found that those gut feelings we experience are often the unconscious aspects of our mind melding seemingly unimportant information to come to very distinct conclusions. One of his studies cites a NASCAR driver who stopped during a tight turn without understanding why and avoided a pile up which would have killed him. It’s these kinds of incidents, ones which pop up in catastrophic moments, which strengthens the argument that intuition, rather than being a fluffy term for the reasonably-minded to dismiss, is something very meaningful and real.

So what does this mean for the average citizen? It certainly doesn’t mean that we should all walk around all day allowing our ‘gut instincts’ to direct our everyday normal lives, but it also doesn’t mean that we should ignore those overpowering, nagging feelings when they do hit us across the head.


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