Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Intuitive feelings are generally defined as thoughts that come to mind without apparent effort.(1-4) Intuition is known to be acquired by learning processes.(5;6) Some systematic processes of retrieval or integration of information generate intuitions unconsciously influencing behaviour. Existing ‘models can be categorized according to the format in which information is thought to be stored in memory and the specification of the retrieval or information integration processes’.(7) They say that intuition is an umbrella term for different kind of processes and researchers have to make clear which kind of processes they are investigating. The two authors discern four partially complementary types of processes, two of them related to learning and retrieval and two related to the source of information and integration. Research of the different processes requires specific methods examining that type of intuition. The authors then discerned four models of intuition.

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1) The first one they mentioned is the associative intuition with a simple learning-retrieval process. People record a lot of information from their environment, both consciously and unconsciously. The learning process is by reinforcement and association e.g. classical conditioning, evaluative conditioning, social learning, implicit learning and so on. The retrieval process of this kind of intuition can be described such as

  • mere feelings of liking and disliking. The affect heuristic assumes that people acquire ‘affective tags’ from experiences. This heuristic helps people to make choices.(8-10)
  • an affective arousal. The somatic marker hypothesis describes how brain structures are involved in decision-making processes evoking conscious gut feelings of positive or negative affect.(3;11-14)
  • the activation of the previously successful behavioural options. People unconsciously and instantly choose the routine option.(15)

2) The second type of intuition according to Glöckner & Witteman, is about matching intuition with exemplar/prototype learning-retrieval. Learning is a process of acquisition of exemplars, prototypes, images and schemas. This is related to more complex learning processes in different memory systems. The retrieval of appropriate knowledge is by comparing with exemplars, prototypes or images stored in memory. ‘The Recognition-Primed decision model postulates that complex pattern-recognition processes underlie intuition: A situation generates cues that are compared to memory traces and that enable people to recognize patterns (which make sense of a situation) that activate action scripts (routines for responding)’.(5;16;17)

These above mentioned two models are stressing the importance of learning and retrieval processes. The next two models focus more on automatic information integration processes.

3) The third model is the accumulative intuition. The decision field theory is related to this model. The value of information pieces in memory or currently available is automatically weighed and when the evidence for one option reaches a threshold that option is selected. It is a mathematical model and precise prediction can be done.

4) The last model is the constructive intuition. Information is not only accumulated and retrieved but people construct mental representations of the task using both current information and relevant information from memory. ‘The underlying processes can be mathematically captured using parallel constraint satisfaction (PCS) network models which have also been applied to judgments and decisions’.(5)

Dual-processing models do not describe the process of learning and retrieval but highlight how automatic, intuitive, non-analytical processes interact with the deliberative, analytical processes and which factors influence their activation.(1;3;18;19)

In this description, the associative intuition can be recognized when a GP enters the waiting room inviting a patient or when a patient enters the surgery, and suddenly a gut feeling that something is wrong with that patient arises.  Apparently, a piece of information e.g. a cue in the way a patient presents him/herself, is associated with specific knowledge. The second type of intuition is also recognisable when the patient’s signs and symptoms remind the doctor of earlier experiences with other patients or disease pictures. The constructive intuition can be seen during the diagnostic reasoning process when a GP combines all information of a patient and then suddenly recognizes a pattern.


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(16) Gary Klein. Intuition at work. Doubleday; 2003.

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