For centuries scientists have studied how both instinct and intellect figure into the decision-making process.
A new study has shown that forced to choose between two options based on instinct alone, participants made the right call up to 90 percent of the time.
Professor Marius Usher of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences and his fellow researchers say their findings show that intuition was a surprisingly powerful and accurate tool.
Even at the intuitive level, an important part of the decision-making process is the integration of value – that is, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of each option to come up with an overall picture, explained Prof Usher.
He said: ‘The study demonstrates that humans have a remarkable ability to integrate value when they do so intuitively, pointing to the possibility that the brain has a system that specialises in averaging value.
‘This could be the operational system on which common decision-making processes are built.
‘In order to get to the core of this system, Prof Usher designed an experiment to put participants through a controlled decision-making process.
On a computer screen, participants were shown sequences of pairs of numbers in quick succession. All numbers that appeared on the right of the screen and all on the left were considered a group; each group represented returns on the stock market.
Participants were asked to choose which of the two groups of numbers had the highest average.
Because the numbers changed so quickly – two to four pairs every second – the participants were unable to memorise the numbers or do proper mathematical calculations.
To determine the highest average of either group, they had to rely on intuitive arithmetic.
Their accuracy increased when more date was presented.
When shown six pairs of numbers the participants chose accurately 65 percent of the time.
But when they were shown 24 pairs, the accuracy rate grew to about 90 percent.
‘Intuitively, the human brain has the capacity to take in many pieces of information and decide on an overall value,’ said Prof Usher.
‘Gut reactions can be trusted to make a quality decision.’
The results of their study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.