Decisions: Roles of Intuition and Cognition

Roles of Intuition and Cognition in Decision Making

Roles of Intuition and Cognition in Decision Making

In terms of the decision-making process, intuition occurs before cognition. The important practical implication of this process is this: if we don’t grasp the underlying emotions and how intuition is driving a decision or action, then we really don’t understand it. Thus, behind every single decision or action, there will be an emotion or a collection of emotions driving it.

An excellent illustrator of the connection between intuition and cognition is radar. Let the appearance of something on radar represent intuition and the actual sighting of it be cognition. The key implication of this metaphor is that intuition comes before cognition in our entire decision-making process. The movement of something from radar to an actual sighting represents the movement of feelings into thoughts and finally into decisions and actions.

The diagram to the right expresses this relationship. Moving from left to right, intuition processes our emotions which are typically a collection of feelings. Our emotions create our desires, wants and needs. Through these intuition gives our cognition direction. This direction allows cognition to create thoughts. Using techniques such as reason and logic, through cognition a collection of thoughts coalesce into a rationale. These rationales form the expressible, concrete foundation of our decisions and actions.

In short, this decision-making process transforms our vague, generalized emotions into concrete decisions and actions. An excellent metaphor is the igniting of gasoline. Without the concrete form of an engine and car, this event is a potentially harmful explosion. With that form, the event becomes a transformative tool in our lives. Similarly, without the techniques and tools to express ourselves, our emotions lack a practicality that will allow us to enhance our lives. In some cases, they might even harm ourselves and others.

 

4 Comments

  1. Comment by Mary Mimouna:

    I never thought about this process, but reading your excellent description, it seems very accurate.

  2. Comment by Norman Jentner:

    Mike,
    This is a really well-written piece. I think that most people underestimate the active role that emotions play in our cognitive processing. Regretfully, many people attempt to be “smart” by keeping their attention focused solely on logical content. This can be like being a one-eyed person who unbeknownst to him- or herself lacks detailed depth perception.
    It is also interesting to note that emotions (intuition) can be in response not only to external events, but also to our own logic. I have found it very helpful to learn how to support a dialogue between the emotional side of my information processing as well as the logical side. In this sense, I can obtain a kind of “stereoscopic” view of any matter of consideration. This “stereoscopic” view includes my logic, in the one hand, and my feelings, on the other hand. Perhaps I will comment more about this in a future response to another of your blogs.
    In the meantime, thank you for putting these concepts into words and using useful metaphors to help us to better understand what you mean.

    ~Norman

  3. Comment by Allan Beveridge:

    Hello Mike,

    Interesting notions, and I like the message you are trying to convey. That said, I do have one disagreement with part of what you suggest, namely having to do with the mechanism you mention, which is illustrated by the diagram.

    I would say that emotions do not create desires or thoughts, it is the other way around. But it is a common misconception. One has a thought which, figuratively speaking, manifests emotions of a kind related to nature of the thought. I don’t believe this changes your intent or conclusion, it is more a technicality. Using your metaphor, the thought is the match and the emotion the gasoline. How we express the emotions (i.e. whether the explosion is controlled/directed or not) and how they affect our decisions depends not just on the originating thought, but on other thoughts that affect the final decision/action. Mitigating factor’s, if you will. We feel the emotions these thoughts trigger, with the emotions providing feedback to our minds.

    In practical terms:
    We don’t get afraid without a reason. The source of the reason is either a built int “auto-reflexive” response or it is triggered by our thoughts.

    I will add that while an emotion cannot create a thought it will “activate” existing thought. Manifestation happens in the downward path (thoughts to emotions ), activation in the upward (emotions to thoughts). But I could write on this for a while lol enough said.

    And all this is, of course. my opinion. That said,it is an area I have studied at length for a number of decades. You do not have to agree of course as I am only sharing a different take. My best to you as you try to help people!

    Kind regards,
    Allan Beveridge

    • Comment by Mike Lehr:

      Thank you, Allan, for the compliment. I appreciate it.

      Yes, I can understand your view regarding thoughts as the initiator of our emotions. Perhaps we’ll just need to leave it a disagreement unless we’re just defining things differently. Assuming we are not, I still stand by my post and diagram. Ironically, it’s really the thought that thought initiates emotions that is the common misconception. Its roots lie in the formalized idea of free will in the 1500 and 1600′s and the more recent ones from positive thinking in the 1950′s and cognitive psychology in the late 60′s.

      Recent advancements in technology and research methodologies have made great strides in demonstrating our emotions drive thought rather than the reverse. Consider for instance, that the unconscious was proven to exist in the late 1990′s. This spawned many studies on the time lag between when a thought initiates and when it reaches consciousness. Also, neuroscience discovered that the emotional functions of the brain drive decision making. This occurred when they studied brain trauma. When cognitive functions were paralyzed, patients could still make decisions as long as the emotional aspects of their brains were intact. However, when the reverse occurred, cognitive functions intact and emotional ones paralyzed, patients could not make decisions.

      In practical terms, you are incorrect when you state, “We don’t get afraid without a reason.” We do, however, we tend to classify these as irrational fears so we ignore them and thus the reason for your statement. People, especially sensitive ones, very often have feelings and emotions that they can’t attribute, rationally or otherwise. Moreover, emotions determining thoughts is very real; we often refer to it as rationalization. We desire something and those desires compel us to seek a rationale that will satisfy those desires. I call it “shopping for rationales.”

      Nevertheless, external stimuli influence us and our emotions but this is subjective. Our personalities, the composite of our emotional makeup, will color those stimuli to fit our personality and our desires. For example, when you mention “change” and ask people to draw it, you get different drawings. There isn’t a direct connection between the stimuli and the emotions it elicits, the thoughts these emotions generate and the final action, if any, the thoughts produce.

      Now, it tends to be a conclusion of thought-centric advocates that this is a matter of process. Change thought process and you change emotion to change outcomes. I call this an “education bias”; all you have to do is teach someone a new idea or way of thought and they will change how they feel about things. This is definitely not true especially if their emotions and belief construct are oriented against it. Moreover, people will tend to choose the thought process that best fits their emotional desires. Thus, emotions drive thought by driving our preferences for thought process and decision making. For example, people who have strong emotional security needs will tend to rely on evidence-based decision making process such as the scientific method. They will tend to make the safe decision. Those who have an emotional makeup more tolerant for variability, failure and experimentation, will tend to favor trial and err as a thought and decision-making process.

      The best example is political beliefs. We often assume that these originate because of how we stand on issues when in fact the increasing body of research clearly shows this is a function of personality which is again centered around our emotional makeup. In essence, people don’t select parties because of their issue orientation but rather by the one most in line with their emotions. That is why, if you do a good personality assessment, you can predict how people will vote with a rather high degree of certainty without even knowing where they stand on the issues.

      Well, Allan, I appreciate your comments. Much more along these lines is already in my blog. If you visit the “free will” category, you can find some of the research I mention. Otherwise, we’ll need to discuss specific research and examples or we can just happily “agree to disagree.”

      In the meantime, enjoy your day and I too wish you the best to you and those you help.

      Kind regards in return,
      Mike Lehr

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