Have you ever been asked why you like someone? Have you ever been at a loss for words? In today’s society, we are expected to have reasons for everything we do and think. Moreover, we are expected to elucidate those reasons. Intangible concepts such as intuition or gut-instinct are seldom considered “rational reasons” for our actions. Yet, as research shows, these can actually be the most reliable guide of all.
Research by Timothy Wilson and colleagues asked university couples how well-adjusted they considered their relationships. Some couples were allowed to answer based on gut-feel, whereas others were asked to first analyse their relationship out load and verbally explain the reasons for their answers. The experiment found that the couples who answered based on gut-feel were significantly more accurate at assessing their relationships than those who first explained their reasons, as measured by whether they were still together several months later. This demonstrates that our intuition can outperform our ability to verbally reason. See Less thinking leads to better decisions for more examples.
What is the problem with verbal reasoning? The problem is that not all thoughts can be expressed in words. If we reason about something verbally, we tend to skim over those thoughts that we cannot easily express. Thus, if asked to explain why we like someone, we focus on concrete traits that we can describe, whereas most of what we value in a relationship really falls under the category of intangible and inexpressible qualities. This may explain why couples are much better at evaluating their relationships when they answer solely based on intuition.
Thus, whether justifying our actions to ourselves or to another, referring to intuition or gut-feel is a perfectly valid explanation. Concrete and tangible reasons may be attractive – they can be easily shared with others, they can be written down in a table of pros and cons – but at the end of the day they can only capture a small component of what is important. The power of intuition to grasp all of this and more, and to sum this up as a feeling, is foolish to ignore…particularly in matters of love.