Decision-making is an inevitable part of the human experience, and one of the most mysterious. For centuries, scientists have studied how we go about the difficult task of choosing A or B, left or right, North or South -- and how both instinct and intellect figure into the process. Now new research indicates that the old truism "look before you leap" may be less true than previously thought.
In a behavioral experiment, Prof. Marius Usher of Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences and his fellow researchers found that intuition was a surprisingly powerful and accurate tool. When forced to choose between two options based on instinct alone, the participants made the right call up to 90 percent of the time. The results of their study were recently published in the journal PNAS. Even at the intuitive level, an important part of the decision-making process is the "integration of value" -- that is, taking into account the positive and negative factors of each option to come up with an overall picture, explains Prof. Usher. One weighs the strengths and weaknesses of different apartments for rent or applicants for a job. Various relevant criteria contribute to the decision-making process. "The study demonstrates that humans have a remarkable ability to integrate value when they do so intuitively, pointing to the possibility that the brain has a system that specializes in averaging value," Prof. Usher says. This could be the operational system on which common decision-making processes are built.