What is intuition? Neuroscientists’ response

  What is intuition?  Neuroscientists' response

Sixth sense, little inner voice, temperament… Intuition takes on many names that elevate it to the rank of superpower, some of which will be naturally endowed and others not: it has long been whispered in the ear by the gods. of your favorite people. So much so that even today it is often confined to parapsychology, such as clairvoyance or telepathy. But not for scientists.

“There is nothing magical or spiritual in this. There is no explanation to seek outside what science teaches us” , claims Joel Pearson, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Australian University of New South Wales. “It is an argument outside the field of consciousness”, says researcher Leo Robeau du Pont in the Laboratory of Psychology and Neuropsychology at the University of Paris. According to behavioral economics pioneer Daniel Kahneman, it is also a pure fast and emotional thought system, the other being slow and thoughtful. system

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Intuition is…
a flash of genius

You have been working on a problem for days, even weeks. When suddenly, one evening, when you’re doing something completely different, that you don’t think about, the solution suddenly pops up: Eureka! “This overall intuition comes from our ability to perceive many elements and let the unconscious logic shape them” , explains Leo Robeau du Pont. This very creative process is not instantaneous, it takes time for the brain, but upon arrival, the path to follow appears suddenly and clearly.

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an expert look

A doctor who knows immediately what his patient is suffering from when he comes to his office, a professional tennis player who predicts how the ball will land based on how it was hit … making an analytical decision. At the core of the process is one that has become comfortable with learning and practice. It is enough to assess a situation at a glance from minute details and quickly identify the answer by going through our repertoire of experiences and knowledge. The more expertise one has, the more reliable this intuition will be.

a hunch

“It’s an emotional response that brings information into consciousness, for example, when we walk into a house it tells us: This is what I’m going to buy”, refers to Leo Robeau du Pont. Or like playing the money game and fortunes turn: We feel pain increasing, our hands sweaty—a sign that it’s time to stop before all that is lost. This intuition reveals to us what we see from within, and drives us to make decisions. But he isn’t necessarily right: Our emotions can mislead us.

For the past ten years, intuition has become an area of ​​research in its own right, being explored by neuroscientists as well as psychologists. And his work is enlightening! Because we now know how, and specifically where, intuition originates from our brains, thanks to neuroscience studies that have documented its emergence. And that we discover its various faces, thanks to cognitive psychology studies conducted in the field, and those who have seen it in action.

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All of this research has one goal: to know how to use this cognitive process, which is more rational than it sounds. Because, of course, intuition is relative, it can just as easily lead us to the idea of ​​genius as to fool us! The good news is that it works. But there are many unanswered questions.

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an instinct

Like intuition, instinct emerges very quickly and unconsciously: we cannot explain it to ourselves. “Except instinct is instinctual behavior.

You don’t have to learn how to react when you put your hand on a still hot stove, you just remove it in response to pain”, Joel Pearson explains. Unlike intuition, which is acquired. “Intuition is a much more complex phenomenon, involving learning, memory, experience, and action by associations.”

a “deja vu”

We’ve all experienced it at least once: finding ourselves in a new situation and realizing that we’ve already experienced it. When this feeling is very strong, we have the impression of even being able to predict what will happen next. “But these predictions are false and have nothing to do with intuition”says Akira O’Connor, a neuroscientist at the Scottish University of St Andrews. A 2018 US study showed that it was actually a “bug” of the brain, which cannot recover the memory associated with a situation identified as familiar.

“Why are some people more intuitive than others? How far can you push this ability? We’re just starting to unravel its mysteries!” Joel excites Pearson. So go and find your intuition, make it yours. In order, perhaps, one day, to have complete control over it.

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