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Intuition: Its Powers and Perils

David G. Myers
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    How reliable is our intuition? How much should we depend on gut-level instinct rather than rational analysis when we play the stock market, choose a mate, hire an employee, or assess our own abilities? In this engaging and accessible book, David G. Myers shows us that while intuition can provide us with useful-and often amazing-insights, it can also dangerously mislead us.Drawing on recent psychological research, Myers discusses the powers and perils of intuition when:• judges and jurors determine who is telling the truth;• mental health workers predict whether someone is at risk for suicide or crime;• coaches, players, and fans decide who has the hot hand or the hot bat;• personnel directors hire new employees;• psychics claim to be clairvoyant or to have premonitions;• and much more.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13027-0
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    As a research psychologist and communicator of psychological science, I have spent a career pondering the connections between subjective and objective truth, between feeling and fact, between intuition and reality. I’m predisposed to welcome unbidden hunches, creative ideas, the Spirit’s workings. I once took an instant liking to a fellow teenager, to whom I’ve now been married for nearly forty years. When I meet job applicants, my gut reactions sometimes kick in within seconds, before I can explain my feelings in words. “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted,” said a sign...


    • 1 Thinking Without Awareness
      (pp. 15-30)

      Has anyone ever told you that you are amazing? Well, you are. You process vast amounts of information off screen. You effortlessly delegate most of your thinking and decision making to the masses of cognitive workers busily at work in your mind’s basement. Only the really important mental tasks reach the executive desk, where your conscious mind works. When you are asked, “What are you thinking?” your mental CEO answers, speaking of worries, hopes, plans, and questions, mindless of all the lower-floor laborers.

      This big idea of contemporary psychological science—that most of our everyday thinking, feeling, and acting operate...

    • 2 Social Intuition
      (pp. 31-50)

      As Jackie Larsen left her Grand Marais, Minnesota, church prayer group one morning in April 2001, she encountered Christopher Bono, a short, clean-cut, well-mannered youth. Bono said that his car was broken down and that he was looking for a ride to meet friends in Thunder Bay. “I told him to come to my shop and I would look up his friends in the phone book and they could come for him,” Larsen later recalled.

      When he appeared before her, Larsen felt a pain in her stomach. Initially she thought he was a runaway, but something told her that something...

    • 3 Intuitive Expertise and Creativity
      (pp. 51-64)

      As the mushrooming mountain of evidence plainly indicates, we have two minds—two ways of knowing, two kinds of memory, two levels of attitudes. One is above the surface, in our moment-tomoment awareness; the other is below, operating the autopilot that guides us through most of life. We see the work of those downstairs cognitive laborers in the social intuitions they slip into our awareness, and also in our developing expertise and creative inspirations. Through experience we gain practical intuition—subtle, complex, ineffable knowledge that aids our problem solving.

      From your two eyes your brain receives slightly differing images of...


    • 4 Intuitions About Our Past and Future
      (pp. 67-86)

      Thanks to the three pounds of wet neural tissue folded and jammed into our skulls, we are the world’s greatest wonder. With circuitry more complex than the planet’s telephone networks, we process boundless information, consciously and unconsciously. Right now your visual system is disassembling the light striking your retina into millions of nerve impulses, distributing these for parallel processing, and then reassembling a clear and colorful image. From ink on the page to a perceived image to meaning, all in an instant. Our species, give us credit, has had the inventive genius to design cell phones and harvest stem cells;...

    • 5 Intuitions About Our Competence and Virtue
      (pp. 87-103)

      At the center of our worlds, more pivotal for us than anything else, are we ourselves. Whatever we do, whatever we perceive, whatever we conceive, whomever we meet will be filtered through our self. When we think about something in relation to ourselves, we remember it better. If asked whether specific words, such asoutgoing,describe us, we later remember those words better than if asked whether they describe someone else. If asked to compare ourselves with a character in a short story, we remember the character better. Two days after a conversation with someone, we best recall what the...

    • 6 Intuitions About Reality
      (pp. 104-130)

      Let’s begin with another little intuition checkup. Quick and easy now, starting with some gut checks on your intuitive physics:

      1. The diagram shows a curved tube, lying flat on a table. A BB is shot into the opening and out the other end. With your finger on the page, draw the BB’s path through the tube and after it shoots out the tube.

      2. While flying at a constant speed, a plane drops a bowling ball. Draw the path the ball will follow (ignoring wind resistance) and show where the plane will be as the ball hits the ground....


    • 7 Sports Intuition
      (pp. 133-151)

      In sports, as in other realms of life, weird things happen. Random events sometimes produce bizarre, unforgettable results.

      Eight golfers witnessed Todd Obuchowski’s hole-in-one on the Beaver Brook golf course in Massachusetts. His shot soared over the green, onto a highway, hit a passing Toyota, and ricocheted back to the green and into the cup.

      In July 2000, David Howard of Brookings, South Dakota, an average golfer (45 for nine holes) and 210 bowler, sank his first hole-in-one and then, hours later, bowled a 300 game.

      In August 2001, Scott Hatteberg of the Boston Red Sox hit into a rare...

    • 8 Investment Intuition
      (pp. 152-171)

      Once upon a time, economists viewed ushomo sapiensashomo economicus—as having preferences that rationally optimize our self-interest. Undistracted by emotion and irrationalities, we were presumed to create efficient marketplaces that accurately value stocks and to coolly adjust our spending and savings in response to economic fluctuations.

      Sorry, say today’s new behavioral economists, this assumed rationality does not reflect human reality. Emotions and group influences matter. Mr. Spock is a Vulcan, not a human.

      Something more than rational self-interest obviously is at work when, on a trip, we leave tips for unseen hotel maids and never-to-beseen-again servers. That’s...

    • 9 Clinical Intuition
      (pp. 172-186)

      A parole board meets with a convicted rapist and ponders whether to release him. A worker on a crisis intervention line judges whether a caller is suicidal. A physician notes a patient’s symptoms and surmises the likelihood of cancer. A school social worker ponders whether a child’s overheard threat was a macho joke, a one-time outburst, or a sign of potential violence.

      Each of these professionals must decide how to weigh their subjective judgments against relative objective evidence. Should they follow their intuition? Should they listen to their experience-based instincts, their hunches, their inner wisdom? Or should they rely more...

    • 10 Interviewer Intuition
      (pp. 187-197)

      As any employment interviewer can verify, impressions form quickly. By the time a candidate has settled into the seat, animation, extraversion, warmth, and voice have already registered. These instant intuitions, as we noted in Chapter 2, can be revealing. A twosecond silent video clip of a teacher in action is all it may take to intuit students’ liking for this teacher at a semester’s end.

      In more recent social intuition research, University of Toledo psychologist Frank Bernieri and his colleagues spent six weeks training two people in job-interviewing skills. The two then spent fifteen to twenty minutes interviewing ninety-eight volunteers...

    • 11 Risk Intuition
      (pp. 198-212)

      Time for one more chance to let your intuition point you to truth.

      1. The terror of September 11, 2001, claimed two-thirds as many lives in one day as the Continental Army lost (4,435) in the entire Revolutionary War. In all of the 1990s, how many people were killed by other terrorist acts worldwide? How many in the year 2000? (Terrorism includes such acts as the bombing of the destroyerColein Yemen, bombings in Northern Ireland, and lethal acts in undeclared wars.)

      2. In the United States, which more frequently causes death? What’s your hunch?

      All types of accidents,...

    • 12 Gamblers’ Intuition
      (pp. 213-225)

      Americans annually walk into casinos, lottery agencies, video poker arcades, race tracks, and the like with more than $500 billion—up about thirtyfold from $17 billion in 1974—and walk out with some $450 billion. Gambling is rightly said to have replaced baseball as the American pastime. Seventy million people a year now attend major league baseball games, while 107 million visit casinos in just Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Mississippi. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, appointed by President Clinton and Congress, reported that the money spent on gambling—$54 billion, according to a 2000 General Accounting Office report—...

    • 13 Psychic Intuition
      (pp. 226-246)

      Apart from curiosity about women’s supposedly superior intuition, no idea about intuition seems to evoke more fascination than that of a presumed sixth sense—a weird and wonderful human capacity for reading minds, thinking about someone just before they phone, intuiting what’s happening elsewhere, communicating with the dead.

      Several years ago, a colleague posted my text discussion of extrasensory perception on our department website. With no effort to promote the site, it became the first-listed “extrasensory perception” site at the search engine Google, generating thousands of visits a year and many interesting letters from people telling me stories of psychic...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 247-250)

    In C. S. Lewis’Chronicles of Narnia,Bree, a proud talking horse, is exposed by the great lion Aslan while blustering a false proclamation. “Aslan,” said a shaken Bree, “I’m afraid I must be rather a fool.” “Happy the horse who knows that while he is still young,” Aslan gently replied. “Or the human either.”

    In exposing our capacity for foolishness, this book runs the danger of being too humbling. Perhaps at times you have felt an urge to exclaim with Hamlet’s mother, “Speak no more: Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul; and there I see such black...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 251-308)
  10. Index
    (pp. 309-322)