Insights on intuition

I APPRECIATED reading the excellent points made in the articles on intuition (March Monitor cover package). I would, however, like to offer an alternative perspective on the subject since some of the articles may not have necessarily discussed intuition but rather heuristics, stereotypes or social scripts used to formulate superficial judgments about others.

At a biological level, intuition for humans may be viewed as instinct for animals, which is a basic survival mechanism. The difference, however, is that unlike animals, human's intuition and instincts are considerably influenced by their experiences in life, as well as societal and cultural frameworks and beliefs. Hence, it may become more difficult to tease out and study intuition separate from these influences.

Caution may therefore be necessary in interpreting data since examples or situations used may have alternative explanations or be irrelevant to intuition. For instance, one reason for low validity of interviews in predicting future performance of an applicant may be due to reliance on false heuristics and stereotypes often used to draw inferences about human characteristics.

Being in different cultures, and experiencing graduate school, I have often observed how individuals are judged based on appearances or behaviors that are falsely believed to represent an individual's personality, skill and performance. Another example provided on how individuals falsely assume that their spouses detect meaning in their subtle voice inflections may not be due to a false intuitive sense but rather due to miscommunications that are based on gender differences.


McGill University

I WAS SURPRISED TO SEE HOW heavily your March lead article on the science of intuition ("What we know without knowing how") relied on quotes from The New Yorker journalist Malcolm Gladwell. His thoughts and ideas comprised key portions of the lead and closing sections of the article. I greatly admire Mr. Gladwell's talent as a journalist and appreciate his translation of psychological research to the general reader. But Mr. Gladwell is not a psychologist and does not conduct research on intuition. So how can the magazine of APA, read by thousands of psychologists, portray him a leading authority on the topic of intuition? Gladwell is so prominently featured in the article that the work of the psychologists who actually study and write about intuition takes a back seat. It almost appears that all the hoopla surrounding Gladwell's most recent book ("Blink," Little Brown, and company, 2005) is the impetus for this cover story, rather than the motivation being our fascination with the topic of intuition. I thought a key mission of the Monitor was to feature exciting topics in psychology and our fellow psychologists who work on those topics.


Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center



WHILE I AM CERTAINLY NOT against research, the scientific method or continuous improvement of oneself and the field, I fear that we psychologists are falling into a dangerous trap ("Shaping evidence-based practice," March Monitor) that will result in our gnawing off our own legs to free ourselves.

One aspect of this trap is our willingness to sell our souls by trying to prove that we are hard-core empirical scientists on par with our colleagues in the more clearly natural sciences. Science is relevant, but therapy is also an art. We deal with individual psyches, each the product of a unique genetic heritage and a unique personal, cultural and social environment. We can obviously deduce principles, but what works in therapy is peculiar to each therapy.

A second, more pernicious part of the trap is our failure to understand the market. The market is not the insurance companies nor the managed-care organizations (MCOs). Consumers are the ones who seek and benefit from our services. They are the ones who must determine efficacy of treatment, who can say whether he or she feels better, has more energy, is uplifted or is free from symptoms of anxiety. In the last five years, we have seen a decline in HMOs. Instead, PPOs are on the rise. MCOs have learned that consumers insist on getting the treatments they want and from which they feel they benefit.

My plea to my colleagues is this: Do not fall into the trap of letting insurers and MCOs set the agenda. Let us set the agenda--sound, quality, respectful, personal and helpful treatment that suits those in need.


Selinsgrove, Pa.