The importance of intuition


What are the “hidden” aspects, the unconscious parts of personalities’ mental functioning that is determining human behavior? While Freud is using the term ‘drive,’ ‘instinct’ and ‘intuition’ (more casually also ‘gut feeling’) are rather popular expressions too, while ‘instinct’ may be seen as a more inherent, and ‘intuition’ as a more experience based type of unconscious mental activity (Sun & Wilson, 2014). Intuition may be substantial for the humanist approach as well, as there is an expectation that the self-actualization tendency is at work in unconscious situations such as creative work, euphoria, and intuition (Gordon, 2012).

Ancient definition states that intuition is a mechanism, which allows becoming conscious about something that is already known (Carina & Johannes, 2016). Recent definitions describe intuitions as a rapid, effortless, automatic, and unconscious process (Murphy, 2014). As Martindale and Collins (2013) put it, intuition is the revelation of memorized information and therefore represents a skill rather than a myth. Freud’s psychoanalytic technique of free association to make unconscious experiences conscious (Ziegler, 2002) may, therefore, be helping intuition.

There is increasing scientific evidence for that the human mind operates in two modes, a conscious (rational) and an unconscious (intuitive) one (Krieshok, Motl, & Rutt, 2011). However, latest state of neuroscientific research rather supports a tripartite structure of the mind composed of instincts, emotions (intuitions), and thoughts, while “emotions are not always automatic and not in general opposition to reason” (Levine, 2017, p. 1). Intuition was neuro-psychologically found to have a low- and high-level capacity, the latter being able to reconcile conflicting aspects of one’s self-concept in the form of consolidating feelings (Carina & Johannes, 2016). Consequently, intuitions could help preventing neurosis as a result of conflicts between the real and ideal self, as a self-actualizing person may experience (Finke, 2002). The importance of intuition respectively feelings for judgmental ability has been shown by Palmeira (2014). Furthermore, intuition seems to be particularly important for challenging, life purpose related (Carina & Johannes, 2016), and new and unusual situations (Gächter, 2012). However, according to Krieshok et al. (2011) people tend to take major decisions consciously and therefore more according to their social identity than based on personally intuitive and genuine criteria.

Intuition also plays a major role in moral judgment as personal differences may result from how someone depends on it (Lombrozo, 2009). Strikingly, people’s intuitive response generally results in more cooperative behavior and (over-) thinking may increase more egoistic behavior (Gächter, 2012).  In conclusion, it seems that intuition is important for human judgment and behavior and sound decisions might come from a balance of reasoning and intuition (Krieshok et al., 2011). Skilled intuition may even be an indicator of mental health. Carina and Johannes (2016) found that depressed individuals are less capable of taking choices and healthy test person have been evaluated as being able to use their intuition for problem-solving. Intuition capacity can be measured with the Types of Intuition Scale (TIntS) measures (Pretz et al., 2004).

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Carina, R., & Johannes, M. (2016). Loosing gut feeling? Intuition in Depression. Frontiers In Psychology, Vol 7 (2016), doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01291/full

Finke, J. (2002). Aspects of the actualizing tendency from a humanistic psychology perspective. Person-Centered And Experiential Psychotherapies, 1(1-2), 28-40. doi:10.1080/14779757.2002.9688276

Gächter, S. (2012). Human behaviour: A cooperative instinct. Nature, 489(7416), 374-375. doi:10.1038/489374a

Gordon, S. (2012). Existential Time and the Meaning of Human Development. Humanistic Psychologist, 40(1), 79. doi:10.1080/08873267.2012.643691

Krieshok, T., Motl, T., & Rutt, B. (2011). The Evolution of Vocational Psychology: Questions for a Postmodern Applied Discipline. Journal Of Career Assessment, 19(3), 228-239.

Levine, D. S. (2017). Modeling the instinctive-emotional-thoughtful mind. Cognitive Systems Research, doi:10.1016/j.cogsys.2017.05.002

Lombrozo, T. (2009). The Role of Moral Commitments in Moral Judgment. Cognitive Science, 33(2), 273-286. doi:10.1111/j.1551-6709.2009.01013.x

Martindale, A., & Collins, D. (2013). The Development of Professional Judgment and Decision Making Expertise in Applied Sport Psychology. Sport Psychologist, 27(4), 390-398.

Murphy, P. (2014). Teaching Applied Ethics to the Righteous Mind. Journal Of Moral Education, 43(4), 413-428.

Palmeira, M. (2014). Intuitions in Conflict: Preference Reversals Due to Switch Between Sensitization and Diminishing Sensitivity. Journal Of Behavioral Decision Making, 27(2), 124-133.

Pretz, J., Brookings, J., Carlson, L., Humbert, T., Roy, M., Jones, M., & Memmert, D. (2014). Development and Validation of a New Measure of Intuition: The Types of Intuition Scale. Journal Of Behavioral Decision Making, 27(5), 454-467.

Sun, R., & Wilson, N. (2014). Roles of Implicit Processes: Instinct, Intuition, and Personality. Mind And Society: A Journal Of Cognitive Studies In Economics And Social Sciences, 13(1), 109-134.

Ziegler, D. J. (2002). Freud, Rogers, and Ellis: A comparative theoretical analysis. Journal Of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 20(2), 75-92. doi:10.1023/A:1019808217623

  • I have left two comments, so you don’t have to approve this one to your blog, just wanted to give some feedback.

    I really like what you’re doing, and am going to be looking through to see your other content, you have a lot to say and it is based on actual sources so it is reliable and not simply opinion. Thank you for that!

    My request would be for you to write some kind of short summary of the key points at the end of the post. I am speaking as someone who has ADHD and is not always best at reading! This would definitely engage with more people and simplify it for people who are just flicking through and see an interesting title so they take a quick look.

    Anyway, great blog and I will continue following you. If you have any feedback for me anytime i will always appreciate it!

    Have a great day.

    • Thank you very much for your time to encourage and make such valuable suggestions for improvement. I fully agree with you that I should add some structure and readability to some of the articles. I just saw a good example on your blog too!:-) Thanks and all the best!

      • No problem and I’m glad you received my suggestion in the way I meant it!

        I read your new post this morning and you had already introduced it and it was a big improvement in its readability!

        If you would like to collaborate on something at some point in the future let me know and we can work on something!

      • One more thing, I would love to ask you a few questions about psychology, maybe it would be a good opportunity for a blog post.

        I don’t know very much about it at all, so maybe it would be a good introduction to psychology for people?

        I literally think it is a fascinating subject, and would love to draw out some of your knowledge and ideas in a few areas?

        Let me know what you think.

      • That’s a great idea and absolutely in my sense.

        I think more research questions and results from psychology should find their way into everyday life and education. What else is more relevant for our lives than studying what makes human behavior and individual well-being and collective peace?

        Happy to start on such a collaborative post at any time. Shall we use email for developing the content in a .doc before summarizing it into a publishable format?

        Thanks, Mathias

  • What is your experience with your intuition? Scientists aside being human and living from it or with it is an extraordinary laboratory. For me, it’s my soul’s wisdom speaking to me and guiding me. Any message has no emotional charge unless my ego gets nosy and wants to say something about the message before I fully take it in.

    • Hi, Julia. Thank you for your reply. As intuition is speaking to you, is it then the ego that is letting the intuition become an emotionally charged message, or in contrast, the ego could also suppress the emotion and therefore rendering the message ‘hollow’?
      Similar as you describe, I perceive intuition as a voice from the unconscious, a kind of informal channel which, if not blocked, suggests what is invisible to the conscious mind. If there is a connection to the universal intelligence (i.e., spirituality), then it is that route capturing energy/information and forwarding it as intuition. Intuition for me often is vague in the sense that it provides for direction, but not necessarily for the path and means.

  • Another interesting article dear Mathias!

    I’ve recently studied about this and can’t remember who wrote it, but this is why I also believe we should trust upon our intuition more:
    “Intuition is not the same as yielding to impulsive urges. It means being open to a deeper source of knowledge that contains more wisdom than the intellect, cognitive logic and science….” and “The terms intuition and wholeness are closely related. By adopting a receptive attitude towards everything that dwells within me, to my own wholeness, it becomes possible to allow creative, spontaneous and surprising aspects to well up in my body. Because the phenomenological body is the place where both terms meet.”

    • Hi, Patty.
      How are your studies going? In any case, they are beneficial for this discussion.:-) Thanks a lot for this very apt description of intuition.
      I especially like the emphasis on wholeness. It is true to me as well that intuition seems to stem from multiple sources, not just instincts, not just reason, not just emotion. Intuition rather comprises aspects of all of these and/or it is an underlying more whole construct that is somehow connected to more spiritual sources too.
      Thanks for sharing that!

  • Great post! I like a post that supported by some credible and reliable resources! Btw if you want to know that intuition is like a double edged sword, check my post! basically explaining the mistake of Steve Jobs’ intuition with the Segway and Tony Fernandes’ Intuition that make him expand 25 cents worth of company into the Air Asia we know today! The link :

    • You make a great point, and very compelling post. Thanks for pointing to it. I agree that intuition in combination with experience might be more accurate. Rather than being a purely divine afflatus, I see intuition involving emotions that are triggered by unconscious combinations of mental processes/states that are based on experiences too.

  • Hi. I completely agree with this statement from your post…Strikingly, people’s intuitive response generally results in more cooperative behavior and (over-) thinking may increase more egoistic behavior (Gächter, 2012

    Our intuition is part of the collective…..or ego is not! The messages from our intuition always lead us to personal harmony and group harmony. It’s all about bringing all of our fragmented part together. Let’s face it…humans right now as a collective are a bunch of fragmented parts….:>

    Follow your intuition to have a GOOD day!