Monday, March 7, 2011

Women's Intuition: fact or myth?

Have you ever experienced that “gut feeling”, or knowing something without knowing how you know it? Some people seem to have more “intuition” than others, but what is it really? A sort of “sixth sense”?Wikipedia defines intuition as “understanding without apparent effort”. That seems a simple definition for something so complex and difficult to explain

Psychologists have historically lumped “intuition” in with astrology and mental telepathy and have never really taken it seriously, but researchers at the Univerity of Leeds in England recently studied intuition in more depth. They wrote in the British Journal of Psychology that “ intuition is a process that lies beyond conscious awareness, a form of rapid information processing deep inside the brain structures in which the brain draws on past experiences and external clues to make a decision.”

Using technology that measures blood flow to different areas of the brain, they were able to deduce that when someone processes information and makes a quick “gut” response, their brain is actually doing several things at once – analyzing and using their past experience to process the information rapidly.

Lead author Gerard Hodgkinson, a professor of organizational behaviour and strategic management and head of the Centre for Organizational Strategy, Learning and Change at the University of Leeds says intuitions are "a combination of pattern recognition," It’s “mental short cuts by comparing the circumstances in front of you against some kind of template of similar past experiences." Scientists call this rapid primed decision making.

“That triggers a physiological, emotional response, a bodily sensation, where people know clearly what the course of action is, but they don't know why," Hodgkinson says.

So when you get that feeling, that sense of something, knowing something that happens quickly and you can’t really explain how you know it, what your mind has done is taken the information you have – even if it’s not complete information – and rapidly analyzed it, compared it to past experiences and quickly come to a conclusion.

How about “women’s intuition” and the generally accepted belief that women have more of this quality than men?

Dr. William Ickes, writing in Psychology Today, said that when he started researching this, it was expected that they would find that women have more “intuition” than men. But that was not the outcome their research led to, in fact. At first they found very little difference between men and women and they were about to conclude that the stereotype of women’s intuition was a cultural myth, but then a change in their research methods led them to see there were some differences. After additional research they found strong evidence that “the gender difference we had occasionally observed was indeed based on differential motivation rather than differential ability. Women, on average, don’t have greater empathic ability than men, but they do try harder to live up to their stereotype in situations in which they are reminded of it.”

So it comes down to the fact that women are expected to be more intuitive and therefore try harder at it, while men aren’t really motivated to be intuitive -  so they don’t.

I think I’m pretty intuitive. I can often sense how people are feeling. I often read “back story” into situations based on subtle clues, reading people’s motivations, even imagining things that have happened that I have no way of knowing. Sometimes I never know if I’m right...but often I am!
Do you think you’re intuitive? Here’s a quick on-line test to see how intuitive you are. Try it!


D. F. Krieger said...

I scored 145/200, making me "Very Intuitive". That's interesting to know men and women have the same level of ability, it is simply that females try harder to openly practice it. Leaves one to wonder if every was born with psychic ability, it is simply that society's dislike of it has caused most to refuse to practition it and therefor it faded (like any talent or muscle would). Whoops, sorry, getting to theological there :) Thanks for the informative post!

Erin Nicholas said...

I'm "extremely intuitive"-- according to the test! :) Interesting stuff. I've always found it strange when people (*ahem* the DH) don't have a clue how others are feeling or what they're thinking *G*

Kelly Jamieson said...

Thanks D.F. Don't you wonder WHY men don't think it's worth trying?

And yeah Erin, sometimes I don't realize others aren't like that. I once walked out of a VERY tense meeting and said to a coworker, "The tension in that room was killing me" and she just looked at my blankly. She had no idea people were ready to kill each other!