That little voice in the back of your mind that says don’t trust them, don’t walk down that alley, don’t go to that party tonight, and think twice before investing stock, isn’t just a passing subconscious. We thrive in a culture that believes rationality and prevailing scientifically proven logic rules over the knee jerk reaction to pull out of the parking lot or investigate a partner’s alibi. There are just certain feelings humans obligatorily follow without concrete reasoning.   

A 2011 study published in the journal Psychological Science revealed how the body is able to speak intuitively to the mind by dealing out a card game. Researchers designed a game based on no obvious strategy but forced participants to rely upon their hunches. Each participant was hooked up to a heart monitor and a finger sensor to measure sweat secretion. Most players figured out how to improve and eventually win the game, and researchers realized the winners were those who listened to their heart rate. It would speed up before they made a certain choice, but people mistook the subtle bodily changes for intuition.

“We often talk about intuition coming from the body — following our gut instincts and trusting our hearts,” the study’s coauthor Barnaby D. Dunn, of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, said in a press release. “What happens in our bodies really does appear to influence what goes in our minds. We should be careful about following these gut instincts, however, as sometimes they help and sometimes they hinder our decision making.” 

Instincts vs. Intuition

"Instincts" derives from the word "instinctus" or "impulse," indicating it’s the body’s biological tendency to make one choice over another. It is the innate inclination toward a particular behavior that typically relies on a pattern of behavior in response to certain stimuli. The key to understanding our brains is by remembering humans are animals, which are born with a certain toolbox full of strategies and social impetuses to help us survive.

It is instinctually engraved in us to recognize when to run from a perceived danger, known as the “flight or fight” response secreted into our blood systems by adrenal glands. Babies are born knowing how to feed from their mothers, while mothers know when there is something amiss with their offspring. It is the proverbial sixth sense we have shadowed behind the five testable ones: see, taste, touch, smell, and hear.

On the flipside, the word intuition is based off of the word “intuition” or “consideration,” formed by a collection of beliefs, experiences, and memories. The intuitive system is more hardwired into the human species than commonly understood. It is the automatic, mindless thought process that doesn’t require analysis or deep thinking. Science relies on heuristic techniques for problem solving, learning, or discovery that engages in a practical approach to action that gut reactions can’t evidentially rival.

Unfortunately, gut feelings can also be silenced. When humans are forced or denied certain feelings during their prime stages of mental, physical, and above all emotional growth, guts can be faulty. A childhood hijacked by abusive or neglectful parents or guardians can create excessive self-doubt, irrational fear, or a clouded thought process, making it difficult to filter traumatic past experiences from actual gut intuition. Overwhelming stimuli can also make it difficult for a person to see the decision in front of them with clarity.

Women, on the other hand, may have a stronger ability to make a successful intuitive decision because of their exceptional skills in reading other humans. Female ancestors needed to evaluate a situation quickly in order to tune in to their infant and their environment for protection and survival. Their brains were trained with peak awareness because they were protecting a heart outside of their own bodies. Female brains therefore evolved to have a larger composition and ability to organize chunks of environmental information at a time, giving them an edge to read people.

So ladies, trust your gut.