The subconscious - how does it influence our decisions?

Every psychologist would confirm that the subconscious plays an important role in making bigger decisions. This realization is not new to most people, because almost everyone knows the indefinable "gut feeling", the intuition that you often feel when it comes to important decisions. In the meantime, it has been scientifically proven that careful consideration is not always the right way to go, too much thinking overstrains the brain. And to listen to his feelings is vital.

Sleep on it overnight

As the journal Science wrote in its February 17, 2006 issue, a team of psychologists headed by Ap Dijksterhuis of the University of Amsterdam found out in tests with test subjects that complex decisions like buying a car are not a plethora of facts and need information to arrive at a correct decision.

If you go about your normal business, not thinking about buying anything, sleeping for a night and making the decision, the decision is almost always satisfactory. By contrast, deliberate considerations make sense when it comes to making smaller decisions, such as which hair dryer to buy. This was proven under laboratory conditions as well as in real life.

Researchers assume that the human subconscious mind has a higher capacity to integrate more information that ultimately leads to better decisions. For simple things like hairdryers you only need a few facts - wattage, power and weight - to collect the information you need.

Subconscious mind, intuition - what is it?

An eye-opening experience, the sparkling idea, the sure feeling, the right nose - all this is behind the terms subconscious and intuition. The subconscious is the colloquial variant of the unconscious, a term coined by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis.

According to Freud, the unconscious is a system that consists primarily of repressed, non-conscious contents and subject to its own laws. Intuition comes from the Latin "intueor" and means "to look at something, to consider". Intuition is an inspiration that arises from the unconscious.

The Swiss psychologist Maja Storch writes: "Recent research in the field of neuroscience shows that in addition to the rational decision-making system, which is connected with conscious processes, humans also have a decision-making system that is associated with feelings and physical sensations."

Intuition is superior to the rational decision-making system in complex situations involving many variables. Maja Storch studied the influence of feelings on decision-making at the University of Zurich.

The rational man - decisions of reason versus decisions of the gut

From an early age we have learned to be "reasonable", to think carefully, to think rationally. The findings of brain research show, however, that the feelings in action are vital, because feelings constantly evaluate the experiences we make. A good experience means being able to do something again, which means avoiding a bad experience.

Maja Storch says: "So every brain has, so to speak, its own foundation for goods testing!" Motivation psychologists have found that only those decisions have a real chance to be translated into action, accompanied by a strong positive feeling.

The Portuguese neurologist Antonio R. Damasio, head of the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa, convincingly explains the fundamental role of emotions in "rational" behavior of humans: a person whose emotional and social behavior is disturbed by brain injuries is no longer able to to make so-called rational decisions. Damasio coined the term "somatic marker", a physical signal system. Somatic markers draw our attention to whether an envisaged solution really feels "good".

The intuition is thus largely fed by our memories, sensations and sensations. We are constantly learning, but we are not aware of the learning process. The learned will then be available when the occasion arises out of the blue. Thus, we often come automatically and quickly to important solutions even with trivial everyday problems.

Experts, such as physicians, come thanks to their wealth of experience to particularly good intuitive solutions. "When we think and act intuitively, we often only need a very small amount of facts or information to arrive at a verdict or make a decision." Heiko Ernst wrote in "Psychology Today" (March 2003) - this corresponds what the Amsterdam psychologists found out.

The "belly brain" - emotions from the digestive tract

The fact that the stomach plays a decisive role, is not only the popular saying: "decide from the gut" is one of the most common phrases, if you decide spontaneously. The fact is that there is a network of nerves in the abdominal region that controls the brain to a certain extent.

American neuroscientist Michael Gershon, head of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University in New York, is considered the discoverer of the "belly brain". Specifically, this means the digestive tract. He has more than 100 million nerve cells - more than can be found in the entire spinal cord. And there are far more nerve cords from the abdomen into the brain than the other way round. 90 percent of the connections run from the bottom up.

This "second brain, " as neuroscientists have discovered, is a reflection of the brain's head - cell types, drugs and receptors are exactly the same. Scientists at the Veterinary School Hannover stimulated live nerve cells from the abdominal region of animals with electricity and chemical substances. They found out that the "belly brain" can also store memories, because it uses the same messengers as the brain and is in constant communication with this.

The sensations and reactions of the abdominal brain are constantly reported to the brain in 90 percent, where they are stored and evaluated in a specific area. The exchange of information from the brain to the stomach is very low, only ten percent.

From what we know, the question arises: are those decisions that we make "out of our guts" the best? Should we listen more to our feelings than to the mind? But this would be a wrong, because one-sided conclusion. Intuitive messages or somatic markers "may not be enough for normal human decision making, " warns Antonio R. Damasio.

In his opinion somatic markers facilitate and improve decisions, but they do not take away our thinking. "They help us think by putting some (dangerous or cheap) choices in the right light." Between mind and intuition, between gut feeling and rational weighing "there is a close partnership, " says Damasio.

Tips for everyday life

So intuition can be important for important decisions and it does not hurt to open up to it. Ang Lee and Theodor Seifert describe in their book "Intuition" the method of the mathematician Henri Poincaré: there are four stages that you have to go through if you are looking for a solution to a problem.

  1. Preparation - you first deal extensively with the task or the problem, actively seeking solutions and also examining the ethical and moral guidelines.
  2. Incubation - now let go, ignore the problem, follow his hobby or sleep.
  3. Illumination - the flash of inspiration, the enlightenment, the solution - this does not happen, but on its own, you suddenly know what to do.
  4. Verification - the intuitively found solution should be critically reviewed again regarding "truth and ethics".

A frequently cited example of arriving at solutions in the manner described is Auguste Kekulé, who sought the structural formula of benzene. One evening, as he fell asleep in front of his fireplace, a snake, biting his tail, appeared in his dream. The problem was solved: Benzene has a ring structure, which at that time was a completely new kind of result.

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