How to Tell if Your Gut Instinct is Right

We all get signals from our guts as to what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s smart and what’s foolish. Our guts are forever telling us which rein to pull and what way to jump. But how on earth are we to know when our guts are giving us the straight dope, and when they’re selling us a pup?

Step up, Science, because you’ve some ‘splainin’ to do!

A report from the BBC delves deeper into the matter of instinct and its guidance on our actions. It cites behavioural economists as referring to ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’ thinking. In the BBC’s words, System 1 thinking is when ‘instant answers just appear to pop into our minds’, while System 2 is ‘where we actively consider our options before coming to a conclusion.

In other words, a number one is when you rush quickly to a decision, whereas a number two is when you sit and think a while. Seems appropriate.

The report says that ‘our gut instincts are not always as random as they seem’, and System 1 thinking is not always wrong: it’s just prone to unconscious biases: thinking fast often means not taking your prejudices into account, and can easily lead you to taking the ‘easy’ option.

In general terms, this means that if your gut instinct seems a little too perfect, it probably is. But if that gut is telling you something that’s hard to hear, it could well be on track.

More pertinently, the message is this: when your gut tells you something, listen to it. But also question it: check that it’s not just cognitive biases telling you what you want to hear. It’s always best to take a moment to ponder.