What is the scientific explanation of intuition

The "gut feeling" in science

Science is considered the epitome of reason. Logical thinking and thorough testing are their indispensable tools. They should guarantee objectivity. In contrast, premonitions are frowned upon. The psychologist Barbara Kump, university assistant at the Institute for SME Management at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, would like to correct this picture.

The "gut feeling" intuition can be a powerful instrument in the scientific knowledge process, so their thesis. However, intuition should not be glorified as the "sixth sense". Rather, Kump understands it to be a form of data processing.

While rational thinking runs consciously and uses a working memory located in the brain, intuition bypasses this memory. One disadvantage of this type of thinking is that it is unconscious. "This disadvantage is also an advantage," says Kump. "Our conscious working memory is very small, so it can only hold a fraction of all impressions. Intuition can process a lot more data quickly."

Linguistic images

Intuition is difficult to express in language. One therefore makes use of linguistic images. Knowing these limitations, intuition can be put to good use. "Intuition can quickly identify patterns in data," says Kump. "An example is the doctor who looks at a patient and knows intuitively that something is wrong with him."

The scientist has already used her approach in a project in the field of organizational research. The question was how companies deal with change and what challenges they face in the process. To do this, she and a team carried out interviews with company representatives.

"On the one hand, we approached the task with a rational view," explains Kump. "At the same time, however, we explicitly let our impressions work on us." A step in the evaluation of the interviews then consisted of developing associations, metaphors or linguistic images. Terms such as "anthill", "egalitarianism" or "holiday camp" appeared as descriptions of the companies. In the very emotional discussion, hypotheses then crystallized.

Check hypotheses

Promising ones have been separated from less plausible hypotheses. As a final step, the scientists checked whether the intuitively obtained hypotheses were confirmed by the data or not. As an external confirmation of the methodology, the companies consistently found themselves in the results. For example, one company was very concerned about the equality of all employees. However, the project was able to show that there is a latent conflict between younger and older employees.

Kump's ideas are also likely to be heard in the scientific community. Together with Christina Schweiger from the Vienna University of Applied Sciences of WKW, she published a paper that won the "Most Inspirational Paper Award" at the Euram management conference. (Raimund Lang, October 19, 2018)