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Your gut feeling actually comes from the brain

May 08, 2007 16:17 IST

It's something we've heard a million times. Something we claim to feel a million times. This idea of 'knowing' something, or feeling a sense of certainty about something. 'I feel it in my gut,' we tell disbelieving parents, after we tell them about our need to quit our jobs and take up farming.

These 'gut feelings', or intuitions, are sudden judgements whose origin we can't always explain. And, while they may appear to come from nowhere, there are actual signs on the outside that lead to their birth. So, while a lot of people may think of them as magical processes, a recent report by Psychology Today actually shows them to be more like fast mental operations.

According to the report, psychologists believe intuition is a mental matching game. When confronted with a particular situation, the brain supposedly searches all its stored files very quickly, picks the best analogue from the past, and ascribes a meaning to the situation it is presented with. This is not unlike a doctor reaching a diagnosis after taking a look at familiar symptoms.

And as for that familiar phrase 'I feel it in my gut', here's a surprise -- the gut has millions of nerve cells, making it almost a mind of its own! The actual signals come from the brain, but the nerve cells in your gut do play a part in your emotion and intuition.

Experts describe intuition as 'almost immediate situation understanding' as opposed to 'immediate knowledge'. This understanding is filled with emotion; it is felt. Those who lack intuition, therefore, are pretty much paralysed, at least cognitively paralysed. Their ability to make quick decisions is drastically affected.

And no, this doesn't mean relying on one's intuition at all times is a great idea either. It is best used as a first step to solving a problem, or coming closer to a making a decision. The more experience you have in a particular situation, the more reliable your intuition. Still, it always helps to test your hunch first, before accepting it blindly.

The bottom-line is, picking the gut over the mind, or vice versa, may no longer be a good idea; dismissing intuition as fluff thought up by psychologists may be a worse one. What you need to do, then, is learn how to combine the two.

Intuition is great for guesswork, for instance, especially while playing a game. It also saves time, as you move a lot faster than those busy pondering Question One while you've ticked off the answer to Question Six.

Another way of testing intuition is with people. What does your gut tell you about someone? Is it off the mark? Are you ignoring your gut reaction completely and going with something you want to believe, instead of something your gut tells you to believe? Are you paying enough attention to all channels of communication open to you? Also, avoid clichés. Someone not looking you in the eye may not necessarily be lying to you. All you have to be is more motivated to understanding people. When you are, your intuitions about them will be a lot better. It's like a long relationship – a couple married longer may be a lot better at guessing what the other partner wants or needs.

The report in Psychology Today also mentioned how a strong hunch can make a huge difference when it comes to relationships. The heart is governed by the unconscious emotional pattern matching that produces intuitions. So, if you feel strongly about someone, you really may be on to something. Listing pros and cons of an ideal partner doesn't guarantee you will find yourself the love of your life.

Other pointers to consider – going with the gut may be a bad thing when it comes to investing in stocks, but it could be a good thing when it comes to buying a home or a car. Learn to lean on your unconscious, when facing big questions. It's good for you.

The Rediff News Bureau