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Description: Think of something you know a LOT about and/or something that you are very good at or have had a lot of experience with. It could be a job, a hobby, and interest, or a skill or it could simply be related to someone you know a lot about – a loved one, a sibling, a good friend. Now, with that in mind, can you think about a time or two where you have a ‘gut feeling’ about that person or about a situation related to something you know well? Perhaps it was a feeling or a hunch you had about your good friend either during a phone conversation or once when you met for coffee that there was something bothering them that they weren’t telling you. Or perhaps it is a feeling that there is something not quite right with your car – it just did not feel like it is driving they way it usually did. In such situations you may not be able to say exactly what it is that is giving you that feeling but you know something is not right. Hopefully we ask or figure out what is going on. Maybe your car is pulling to the right because the front wheels are out of alignment since you hit that huge pothole last week. Maybe your friend is worried about their relationship or their job but does not want to burden you with that because you have your own stresses right now. Most of what Psychology tells us about knowledge, cognition and expertise involves conscious problem identification and problem solving. So, what IS intuition? What is a ‘gut feeling’? Is it a supernatural ability that we know little or nothing about from a psychological perspective? Is it a sort of mystical power that some people are “gifted” with? As you read through the article linked below, think about what ‘gut feelings’ or intuitions might involve – where do they come from? How can you develop the “power” to have more of them?

Source: How to Quantify a Nurse’s ‘Gut Feelings’, Theresa Brown, Opinion, The New York Times.

Date: August 9, 2018

Photo Credit: The New York Times: Wenting Li

Article Links:


In his book Blink, psychoanalyst Malcolm Gladwell writes about a lot of people who seem to have intuition. One was a high-level tennis coach who discovered one day while watching tennis on television that he would sometimes find himself saying “uh-oh” when the serving player threw the ball up in the air to start their serving motion and each time the coach said “Uh-Oh” the server faulted, their serve did not land in the court. The coach, even with the help of a cognitive psychological researcher could not figure out exactly what it was that he was seeing that resulted in him saying “Uh-Oh”. The hospice nurse who wrote the article linked above wrote about her “nagging sense that something was wrong” with a new patient and her bad feelings about not acting on the feeling when the patient died unexpectedly. Rather than a magical power, intuition is perhaps better thought of as a reflection of the lofty levels of clinical or other forms of expertise we can develop with lots of experience. When we get to know or friends or our cars or our jobs or professions really well we can pick up on constellations of small bits of information and have our expertise nudge us in the direction of a hypothesis or course of action without really being clear as to exactly how we “know” that we need to do something or ask about something or gather some data in a particular area. Our brains are very complex information processors and, when we gain a lot of experience and develop expertise we may not always be consciously aware of all that goes on in our brains as we deploy our expertise. The Rothman Index, mentioned in the article, is an example of one way of modelling the sort of expert data tracking that that clinicians like the nurse in the article or perhaps like clinical psychologists might use in therapy. the advantage of this sort of modelling is that it supports and provides data-grounding for the ‘gut feelings’ of clinical practitioners (experts) and, if used well, can reduce the number of times when clinicians may not act on the ‘gut feelings’. When someone tells you to go with your ‘gut’ when you are trying to make a complex life decision it is worth thinking about whether the decision is in an area where you have enough experience and enough data to actually have a ‘gut’ or and intuition that you can rely upon.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is a ‘gut feeling’ or an intuition?
  2. What does it take to develop a high level of expertise in an area like that used either in medical diagnosis (by medical specialists) or relationship analysis (like couples-counselling clinical psychologists)?
  3. How are expertise and intuition related?

References (Read Further):

Good intuition takes years of practice, Edward Skidelsky, The Telegraph.

Gladwell, Malcolm (2006) Blink: The power of thinking without thinking, Back Bay Books.

Finlay, G. D., Rothman, M. J., & Smith, R. A. (2014). Measuring the modified early warning score and the Rothman index: advantages of utilizing the electronic medical record in an early warning system. Journal of hospital medicine, 9(2), 116-119.

Walco, D. K., & Risen, J. L. (2017). The empirical case for acquiescing to intuition. Psychological science, 28(12), 1807-1820.

Chin-Yee, B., & Fuller, J. (2018). Clinical judgement: Multidisciplinary perspectives.

Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., O’Donohue, W. T., & Latzman, R. D. (2017). Epistemic humility: An overarching educational philosophy for clinical psychology programs. Clinical Psychologist, 70, 6-14.

Chaturvedi, D. K., Arora, N., Trivedi, P., Rastogi, R., & Chauhan, S. (2018). Framework for Use of Machine Intelligence on Clinical Psychology to Study the effects of Spiritual tools on Human Behavior and Psychic Challenges. Journal of Image Processing and Artificial Intelligence, 4(1).