How much should you trust your intuition? A psychologist explains the science of ‘gut feelings’ and where they come from

How much should you trust your intuition? A psychologist explains the science behind ‘gut feelings’

Should we always trust our gut? Perhaps. As it turns out, there is actually a lot of science behind intuitive “bad” feelings. 

When meeting a new person, making a big decision or taking a risk, we’re often told to ‘trust our gut’. Even in high stakes situations, many of us use our bodies and emotions as a guide to keep us out of danger and help make the right choices.

But while trusting your intuition may seem like the opposite of logic, data and hard facts, it’s important to remember that these feelings don’t just appear out of thin air.

In fact, according to Nawal Mustafa, a neuropsychologist known as The Brain Coach on Instagram, there is plenty of science behind why listening to our gut’s cues and warnings is so important. 

“Gut feelings aren’t conjured randomly,” Mustafa explains. “Your brain and gut are connected to make those decisions for you based on several factors.” 

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“Around 95% of your body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, which influences emotions and mood,” she writes. “Gut signals are then transmitted to the brain through the release of serotonin.”

Therefore, when an external factor, such as a new environment, causes your body to produce high levels of serotonin, the response can make you feel safe or in danger depending on the context. 

So if you’ve ever felt unsafe in an unfamiliar area or ‘clicked’ instantly with a new acquaintance, it’s likely your neurotransmitters at work.

Normal brain processes

Mustafa goes on to explain that our normal brain processes – the bits of information we pick up on and end up later influences our decisions – contribute to the production of gut feelings.

“Our environment is full of sensory and emotional data that prepares us for various situations,” she writes. “For instance, you may have a gut feeling that an online seller is scamming you because you’ve collectively heard stories from friends who were also scammed online. Even if there’s very little basis for identifying it as a scam, your gut tells you to withdraw because of the collected information.”

Listening to intuitive ‘gut feelings’ can help us tune in to our fears as well as positive emotions
Listening to intuitive ‘gut feelings’ can help us tune in to our fears as well as positive emotions

The “emotional brain”

According to a psychological study led by Dr Pegna, our gut feelings may also come from our amygdala, a part of our “emotional brain” that processes emotion and memory in response to both positive and negative stimuli.

“Dr Pegna’s findings revealed that the amygdala processes information in two-tenths of a second, and it takes three-tenths of a second for us to become aware of what we see,” Mustafa continues.

“Therefore, a feeling from a stimulus is processed before we are even aware of it, perhaps explaining why we may fear a stranger without knowing them.”  

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But while your intuition is certainly a powerful tool, Mustafa warns that it cannot serve as the ultimate protection from harm.

“Your gut feeling is reliably grounded in emotions, information processing, and observations. But do not use it to make every decision,” she advises.

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