Trusting your gut: intuition or nonsense?

By Roman Orsini

Has anyone ever told you to trust your gut? To many, this advice can sound like whimsical nonsense with no basis in science or reason. If we were to put all of our trust in what our gut has to say, it seems as though we would be busier consuming food than making rational choices. Yet a growing body of research suggests that our gut instincts deserve some real attention as we navigate through the critical decisions and actions life requires.

Try to imagine instances in your life during which you felt an indescribable feeling that something was about to go wrong. Was there a voice inside telling you to act (or not act), even though your conscious self saw no urgent need?

Maybe you’re at a party on a Friday night when you get such a feeling. You abruptly decide to call it an early night, only to find out later that shortly after you left, the police arrived to break up the festivities.

Conversely, have you ever had a nagging feeling that you should go out on a Friday night, even though you’re dead tired from a busy week? So you drag yourself out to a party, or spend time with a group you are less acquainted with, and end up meeting a lovely romantic interest?

Maybe you randomly think about someone you know, but haven’t seen in awhile, only to encounter that person unexpectedly a few days later. Maybe you meet someone for the first time and they seem kind, but afterwards, you feel physical stress and a certain unease when you reflect on the encounter.

These are all instances of your gut trying to tell you something of which your brain is unaware. In the field of psychology, the gut feeling may be referred to as intuition, or the potential to perceive truth and gain knowledge about your environment without applying direct inference or reasoning. Simply put, intuition is what we didn’t know we knew.

Although the field of psychology remains unsure of how to classify the intuitive process and no concrete definitions exist for it, the College’s psychology Department Chair and Professor Jeanine Vivona has some ideas.

“Intuition is not something that is disconnected from a person’s meaning-making mind,” Vivona said. “Instead, what gives intuition its unique feeling, similar to déjà vu, perhaps, is that we don’t know why we have this intuition about something. We don’t know where the gut feeling or hunch or intuition comes from. So the processes underlying intuition are those that involve other kinds of thinking, as well as emotional processes.”

Some researchers suggest that gut feelings are compilations of one’s life experiences assembled unconsciously, but readily available to draw on in real-life situations.

“(Intuition is) this unconscious-conscious learned experience center that you can draw on from your years of being alive,” said Melody Wilding, a human behavior professor at Hunter College, according to ballastpoint.com, a business advice Website. “It holds insights that aren’t immediately available to your conscious mind right now, but they’re all things that you’ve learned and felt. In the moment, we might not be readily able to access specific information, but our gut has it at the ready.”

Some people may think of themselves as naturally intuitive or logical thinkers, as if their thought processes must be on opposite sides of a spectrum. But in reality, we all possess intuition. What varies between people is the degree to which we are willing to listen and follow our intuitive side.

Wherever it may pop up, we should all strive to at least consider our intuition so we may allow the fullest range of our faculties to guide our actions. Given the mysterious nature of intuition, gut feelings may unsettle us because we are hesitant to follow behaviors we can’t explain. However, we should all learn to trust ourselves and our instincts — or at the very least until cognitive science can explain our gut feelings more precisely.

Students share opinions around campus

Should people “trust their gut?”  

Natalie Nunez, sophomore sociology major.
Natalie Nunez, sophomore sociology major.

“It tends to be right… If you have a bad feeling about something, you should probably not do it.”

Arun Madar, junior biology major.
Arun Madar, junior biology major.

“Yeah… Usually your first thought is your best thought.”