Gut vs. Brain

By David Ryback, PhD.

Every time we meet someone new or come across a new, meaningful situation, our emotions have a lot to say about how we value that person or situation.  We may think we’re using our intellect, but it’s the emotional brain—often at an unconscious level—that’s making these decisions of like or dislike.  And often it’s the unconscious aspects of communication that rule.  For example, it’s been found that when men feel more physically dominant, “they assert themselves and their voices drop in pitch,” according to Katie Gilbert, writing in Psychology Today.  “However, when intimidated, their voices go up.”

Decisions to hire and fire can be quite challenging.  There are so many factors to take into consideration—personal, business, legal.  To the extent that we can tap into the emotional level as to how we value the individual overall, we can enjoy the opportunity to make use of the “wisdom of the gut.”  Our feelings can consolidate many more data than can our conscious brain can.  It may appear that the conscious brain can analyze data better, and perhaps it does, but the emotional  part of the brain (and body) can do better than analysis; it can take into consideration many levels of data input and blend them all into one overarching sense of go or no-go, a good or bad feeling about the situation.  Such a process is too overwhelming for the thinking brain alone.

5 Responses to “Gut vs. Brain”

  1. Vivek says:

    Hi David,

    What about instincts?
    It happens several times that our foresight or instincts pin point some things(conclusions). But in professional careers we still gotta keep the decision as per assessed parameters right.

    As per my exp Guts should come with instinct even in hiring n firing.


  2. Ralph Rizzuto says:

    While at IBM, using the brain ‘think’ was the only way to go. However, as you said – the gut gives you a lot of information. It is easy when the gut and the brain agree. When they disagree and your reasons to upper management must be logical, addition analysis is required to reconcile the difference. I was always amazed to uncover much information in the analysis that did not appear at first glance. Using both is best, but when in doubt, my gut and brain say
    “trust the gut’. – Ralph

  3. Patrick says:

    I’ve had quite a few experiences where my emotional reaction was way out of whack. I have ended up having wonderful experiences with people for whom that initial reaction was suspicion or dislike.

    Conversely, many promising starts have spiraled into disaster. I was misled by the superficial friendly behaviour and assumed that they were genuine.

    My concern is that if we go around making snap decisions based on our prejudices that we will go horribly wrong. Good candidates never get the chance, and master manipulators conquor.

    A couple years ago I read the book “Blink”. The point of the book is that if you get to know an area of expertise, with years of hard work and experience, you can make accurate judgements quickly. You really can navigate by feel.

    But the danger is that you can misinterpret the message of “Blink”. The misinterpretation is that you don’t need the years of experience, you can just go with your prejudice.

  4. Ron says:

    How to make a good decision with your Brain, its easy go with your gut reaction.

  5. Pat Gangi says:

    I think the emotional brain, working in conjunction with the logical brain, helps us to go beyond analysis to reflection. The logical brain is great at data analysis; when the emotional brain joins in, we begin to appreciate the impact of that data.

    Consider a sunset. A more analytical person might describe the sunset as “that time when the sun drops below the horizon. You may see different colors which are caused by low angle scattering of light off dust, soot, smoke and (ash) particles.”

    A more reflective person might look at the sunset and say, “Wow…how stunning is that sunset! Look at how things we find so irritating – dust, soot and smog – can create beauty at times!”

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