Musings from the CU Suite

Feb 23, 2012

Trust that Gut?

Written by Anthony Demangone

If any of you know me, or better yet, have seen me, you know that I have a do I put this...a big gut.

Sure, I could blame the following:

  • A love of micro-brewed beers.
  • Exercise that has been reduced to chasing after Kate and Briggs. 
  • Rooting for the Steelers, which generally means I'm attending quite a few football parties, well into the playoffs. (A pox on you, Tebow!)

But in reality, I have no one else to blame.  I eat like a middle linebacker.  I'm as tall as JV point guard. I neglected exercise.  It all adds up.   But I'm working on the issue, 30 minutes a day. 

Well, it turns out that my gut may be good for something after all.  

While this 2007 New York Times article isn't new, it stuck with me as I read it.  The article interviews the researcher whose work led to a ground-breaking book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  His research centered on "gut instincts."  Here's a snippet of the interview with Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer.


Q: O.K., let’s start with basics: what is a gut feeling?

A: It’s a judgment that is fast. It comes quickly into a person’s consciousness. The person doesn’t know why they have this feeling. Yet, this is strong enough to make an individual act on it. What a gut instinct is not is a calculation. You do not fully know where it comes from.

My research indicates that gut feelings are based on simple rules of thumb, what we psychologists term “heuristics.” These take advantage of certain capacities of the brain that have come down to us through time, experience and evolution. Gut instincts often rely on simple cues in the environment. In most situations, when people use their instincts, they are heeding these cues and ignoring other unnecessary information.

Q: In modern society, gut thinking has a bad reputation. Why is that?

A: It is not thought to be rational. One of the founders of your country, Benjamin Franklin, suggested to his nephew that when he made important life decisions, he should do it like a bookkeeper — list all the pros and cons and then make the decision, after weighing everything. That is the classical rational approach.

Q: Some of your critics say that gut instincts just aren’t scientific. What’s your answer?

A: We study these things, where intuition is good and where it’s not. One should also not overlook that in science itself, you need intuitions. All successful research scientists function, to a degree, on gut instincts. They must make leaps, whether they have all the data or not. And at a certain moment, having the data doesn’t help them, but they still must know what to do. That’s when instinct comes in.

Q: Do you think of yourself as intuitive or rational?

A: Both. In my scientific work, I have hunches. I can’t explain always why I think a certain path is the right way, but I need to trust it and go ahead. I also have the ability to check these hunches and find out what they are about. That’s the science part. Now, in private life, I rely on instinct. For instance, when I first met my wife, I didn’t do computations. Nor did she.


I like the last quote, as it may blend the best of the "gut instinct" with the rational world of analysis. Gut reactions, it seem, are more complicated and nuanced that many would think.  But a simple fact-check to test the gut reaction is never a bad idea.  But who cares what I think?

So I pose the question to you: Does the "gut reaction" have any place in the world of a credit union leader?