Logic versus intuition

I can be quite a logical person; I enjoy maths and science and solving problems. Yet when it comes to personal, rather than academic, matters and decisions, I have to feel that I’m making the right decision, so after much analysing and deliberating I will nearly always go with my instinct. Despite this I often regret choices I’ve made, even if they felt right at the time. Does this mean that in future I should analyse all the options and make the logical choice (maximise)? Or should I carry on following my gut and learn to be satisfied with my decision (satisfice)? After all, you can never know what would have happened had you followed a different path, and the grass is always greener.

The thing with following logic is that you then have solid reasons to convince both others and yourself that you made the right choice. Whereas going against something because it feels wrong could just be falling into one of the psychological traps I mentioned in my last post. It’s a tough one, especially for someone like me who has a tendency to go with feelings rather than thinking.

3. Following your gut

(Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer)

This was a really interesting read, especially if you’re interested in psychology. In essence it talks about how our instincts, rather than being based on whim, could be based on unconscious intelligence and following rules of thumb appropriate to particular situations.

There are numerous examples of when using a simplified decision making process can actually be just as effective as using a more complex process. The author also argues that sometimes one good reason is enough to base a decision on.

A useful method is listing your objectives (so important to clearly state these, as I learnt from the last book) in order of importance, and then selecting the first option that matches. Say, for simplicity, you want to buy a pet. Your objectives are, in order of importance, for it to be furry, low maintenance and cheap. If your options are either a cat or a snake (as that’s all the pet shop has) then only one of your options satisfies your most important outcome so you take the cat. However, if your options were cat, snake and dog, two of your options fulfil your most important objective so you look at the next on the list. A cat is more low maintenance than a dog, so again you make your choice, only analysing as far down your list as you need to, without trying to maximise and cover all of your objectives.

Another interesting point is how people tend to stick to the default option. A key example is organ donation. If organ donation is the default option in a country then very few people will opt out, however if opted out is the default, then far fewer people will opt in. I guess this shows that people don’t like to make decisions!

Step 3 for effective decision making: It doesn’t have to be complicated – you can focus on your objectives and compare alternatives without maximising. Sometimes just going with your gut or one reason is actually a good choice too – ignorance can be better than information overload.

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3 comments on “Logic versus intuition

  1. […] is something to be said for gut reactions (see my post ‘Logic versus intuition‘), but I’m starting to realise that my own gut feelings aren’t actually worth […]

  2. emilysteezy says:

    I like this post because I feel your pain. This issue of logic vs. intuition is such a strong force in my life that I actually have a tattoo that is an anagram of the words “Logic” and “Emotion”. Like you I’m in the sciences (well, I’m an engineer) and very logic driven, and yet my personal life have often been driven by decisions that are totally illogical (My Meyers Briggs is ESFJ, and the F, in simple terms, means that you make decisions based on your gut instincts and personal value system, rather than just based on facts); the two forces are constantly fighting each other. And it drives me insane! But I’m learning to deal with it and i don’t think that there’s one right way to make decisions all the time, it’s a case by case thing. Although, I’ve realized that usually when the logical decision maker in me comes into play it’s because my intuition/gut instinct tells me to use logic. So… maybe my intuition always wins out after all.

    I’m gonna pick up that book. Here are a couple other really good books on the same topic:

    Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide: http://www.amazon.com/How-We-Decide-Jonah-Lehrer/dp/0547247990

    Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: http://www.gladwell.com/blink/index.html

    • Yep, I studied science and I’m also an F Myers Briggs type. It is really difficult to balance logic and emotion, and I agree that it’s a case by case thing – my problem is actually sticking with and accepting my choices without going back to ask whether I was led too much by emotion when making them.

      Interesting that your intuition sometimes tells you to use logic – I guess that’s your subconscious telling you that the right thing to do on that occasion is the sensible and/or uncomfortable thing.

      Thanks for the suggestions, I always appreciate book recommendations, especially on the topic of decision-making (a life skill I’m still far from mastering!)

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