The concept of intuition, or more commonly known as a "hunch" or a "gut reaction," has been largely ignored by scholars and scientists at best and has been relegated to the likes of nonsensical fairy tales by researchers at worst. In recent past, intuition has drawn comparisons to concepts categorically labeled as parapsychology such as premonition and telepathy and even equating it to esoteric 'New Age' thinking. The term 'intuition' owes its etymological roots to the Latin word in-tuir, which is often translated as "looking, regarding or knowing form within." For those of you who rely instinctively on your "gut," rest assured with the fact that the concept of intuition is gaining some research support thanks to the emerging field of social cognitive neuroscience.
The underlying neural substrates of intuitive processing lends credence to the legitimacy of the concept of intuition in both theory and — more importantly — practice (maybe). Intuition has been unfairly labeled as a 'parapsychology' term because psychological literature has largely lacked a coherent overarching conceptual framework in which to place the concept. Intuition is more of a dual-process theory and less of a parapsychological term. Dual-process theories boast research critique from the field of cognitive psychology and are often understood both from theory and studies conducted with fMRI machines. In short, cognitive psychology purports to understand the underlying neural substrates that are ultimately responsible for cognition and consequential behavior patterns — but focuses greater attention on the former.
Dual-process theories represent a multitude of forms but they essentially reflect two categories of information processing established by generic fundamental distinctions delineated by researchers Stanovich and West (Stanovich & West, 2000). Intuition is categorically appropriate within System 1 process, which is "contextually dependent, associative, heuristic, tacit, intuitive and implicit/automatic in nature." A System 1 process demands far less cognitive power than its System 2 counterpart. System 2 is far more analytic and explicit in nature — inherently demanding far more cognitive power.
Studies conducted by Lieberman et al. (2004) have revealed interesting and useful details in regard to the neurological function of System 1 processes, like intuition. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Lieberman was able to identify a network of neural structures responsible for the functionality of System 1 processes. The complicated neural network of System 1 processes consists of the basal ganglia, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VPMC), nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and lateral temporal cortex. The notion that implicit processes utilize a vast, complicated neural network to operate supports the notion that the brain constantly operates behind the scenes. This concept is commonly known as non-conscience processing because such insightful processing occurs implicitly — without the conscious awareness of the subject. System 1 processes may access unconscious representations using algorithms that are otherwise unavailable to both working memory and long-term memory lending to the notion that functional constraints exist within conscious thought processes.
Researchers in Portugal recently conducted a study (on rats) in which subjects who made split-second decisions were just as "good" as subjects allowed to take their time to mull their decision over. Another study conducted at the Institute of HeartMath found that subjects exposed to a computer simulated gambling experiment performed better when they trusted their "gut" while making decision. The researchers contend intuition enables a pre-stimulus that invokes a somatic response that we should trust.
"The results of the analysis of all participants across all sessions and trials are strong and provide compelling evidence of nonlocal intuition," McCraty wrote in a report on the study, which he conducted along with Atkinson and IHM's Jackie Waterman.
Additional research (Iowa gambling task, CEST, C-system-X-system distinction) conducted on non-conscious cognitive processes offers plausible support for the functionality of such processes, but the utility of System 1 processes is still questionable largely due to the fact that the accuracy of such heuristics has so far relied heavily upon self-report measures.
Researchers have done enough to establish the concept of intuition as a credible research topic. The assumption that the brain "knows more than we think it knows" is an interesting topic and merits further research. Undoubtedly, measurement tools with greater validity and reliability must be established to determine the accuracy and effectiveness of intuition and other System 1 processes. Before you start "trusting your gut" without venturing into higher order brain functions, make sure you pause and think about it before you make a decision. System 2 processes have long stood the test of time and boast a great deal of research support. Contextually independent critical analytic processes are far more accurate and reliable than a "gut feeling." Don't trust your instincts, trust your consciously developed thought processes because they tend to direct you far better.