Note : We have been intimated by few readers that few websites/blogs have verbatim copied text from this article without permission and/or proper citation. Please note that this is the original article based on a decade long research on the phenomenological (first hand experience) of gut feelings versus hunches. We will update this article in few days to outline more detailed research in this area. Our structured research provides good indications that gut feelings are obsolete flight or fight responses and should not be trusted during decision making process. The feeling of being grounded (inner knowing) during a decision making, judging, inferring process is actually driven by hunches and not gut feelings. Relying on gut feelings is similar to relying on a 100 year old map which has not been updated even once.  

Should we trust our gut feelings or gut instincts ? Many claim that we should carefully listen to them as they provide inner guidance to us. The literature around trusting our gut feelings, gut intuitions, gut instincts or gut feelings has propagated this myth for so long, that we have forgotten to question it. There is power in trusting our gut feelings, only if we know the context in which these micro-intuitions work well.

Around 20 years ago, I was professionally working on a design engineering problem (reverse engineering a component) in the day time & practicing solitary meditative practices in my personal time. That is when I accidentally optimized my neural net outputs significantly enhancing my ability to problem solve tenacious problems using simple, non-shiny solutions. Combined with my own first-hand experience over time & training around 8 people strategic intuition, it become evident to me that gut feeling is not a synonym for hunches as widely thought. More recently, I have used this in Breakthrough Inventing based on a model of constrained optimization heuristic search for solutions in our unconscious. Gut feelings mostly emerge/activate in the vagus zone in situational contexts where quick, mostly unconscious uncanny reflexes are required (fortitude or fear). The vagus system starts sending signals to the mid-brain while short circuiting the front lobes & the conscious mind. Hunches are mostly experienced as bio-markers in the hunch zone based on Damasio’s somatic markers model. Our brain’s neural net is more sophisticated than the vagus neural net, has wider range & can be activated on conscious demand.

Our gut like our other body parts are “experience” trapping mechanisms, which we can recall for future use. Acquisition of these experiential intuitions are significantly error prone and relying on them blindly may not be the best idea. The unconscious heuristics are not stored in the gut as some claim. They are stored in our hunches or somatic markers which is a completely different unconscious catalog than gut markers. We carry out advanced training in Unconscious Deception Detection, Hyperforecasting and Mental Model Innovation. Our hands-on training has proven empirically over and over again that gut markers do not have the function some academics tell us.

When should you trust your Gut Instincts or Gut Feelings? Only in high-risk situations or high fortitude situations. For the rest of the cases, one should use their trained hunches which have a more wider range of pattern recognition and responses. Gut Feelings are obsolete instinctive versions that should be cautiously included in any decision making. Do note that hunches are not the same as gut feelings. Our gut has neurons which inform the brain, but, our heart also has neurons which inform the brain. Finally, our brain has the most sophisticated neuronal system which controls our sensorimotor responses, which activate interoceptive visceral body feelings.

It is important to point out that we have three broad categories of methods to capture information about ourselves and our surroundings. These three types are Exteroception, Interoception, and Proprioception. The last two are internal sensations while exteroception is external. In dynamic situations i.e., constantly evolving situations, we use all these input methods online. In less rapidly changing situations, we have the comfort to predict inputs and responses offline.

Once we are sleeping, most of the exteroceptive functions go offline while rest of the functions are downregulated to a standby mode (minimal energy consumption mode).

Should we Trust Our Gut Instincts ?

Exteroception, Interoception and Proprioception

Interoception has a broad range of conscious, pre-conscious and unconscious processes. Gut Feelings and Hunches form a part of Interoception inputs and borderline on pre-conscious and unconscious.

Why should we NOT trust our Gut Feelings universally?

Gut Feelings have a very narrow and special purpose function i.e., to help us modulate fight or flight response in adaptive contexts. Hunches, on the other hand, have a much wider range of somatic responses. In another post, I will take some time to outline the Hunch Inventory Range ©. In spite of the comprehensive literature available on this subject, many of us mistake gut feelings a.k.a for hunches a.k.a. Somatic markers. If you need a primer in the fundamental differences between Instincts, Intuition, and Insights, please read this post first. What is the difference between intuition and instinct?

Our brain developed in layers starting from the subcortical layers (Brain Stem) and then moving up to Neo-Cortex. The bottom layers are called sub-cortical, and the top layer is called the cortical layer. Most of the processing is carried out by our right cortical and sub-cortical layers.

Evolution of Brain

Instincts are genetically encoded in our DNA and are responsible for instinctive perception and responses. Intuition, on the other hand, is developed due to acquired experiences over a lifetime. Cumulative micro-intuitions formulated and acquired over the lifetime is called Wisdom.

The combined soup of Instincts and Intuitions stream control our sub-conscious perceptions and responses. They also lead to conscious insights which we can symbolically understand using language.

What are Gut Instincts and how are they different from Hunches?

Gut Instincts were developed over many lifetimes of phylogenetic selection (evolutionary) and helped us control our fight or flight responses. Specifically, the vagus nerve in our gut is known to establish the responses of our gut. Before I highlight how Vagus nerve modulates gut instincts or gut feelings, it is important to know that there are two ends of the fight or flight response. If one suffers from Panic attacks, Free Floating Anxiety or PTSD, it is not optimal to rely on gut responses. In case one suffers from anger management issues and have sub-optimal emotional control, then also, they should avoid relying on gut responses.

The vagus nerve in our gut is known to be responsible for the gut feeling. Neuroscientists have discovered how the vagus nerve relays gut instincts to our brain. The Vagus nerve transmits information between the brain and the gut.

The efferent messaging system is used to communicate gut instincts or learned fear to the brain, and the Afferent messaging system is used to relay messages from the brain to the gut. Visceral feelings such as butterflies or heightened anxiety are created by the gut channels and then informed to the brain.

On the spectrum, while one end is Fear, the opposite end is Aggression or Fortitude. I am sure you have heard of the quote “He does not have any guts” or “She is gutless”. The quote refers to the fortitude that develops on the opposite end of the fear spectrum. Having too much guts in a situation is not advisable as there may be situations in which we inaccurately decipher the amount of risk. Researchers removed the Vagus Nerve is removed in mice through a procedure called Vagotomy. It immediately led to an improvement in positive mood and reduction in hypertension. Researchers also found that there was an unintended consequence i.e. an increased tendency in mice to indulge in risky behaviour. Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS) is a procedure used in humans to treat epilepsy and depression.

As this question is specifically about Gut Instincts, I will not go in much detail, but provide an overview of differences between Hunches and Gut Instincts.

Key Differences between Gut Feelings and Hunches?

Gut Feelings and Hunches are routinely associated with the terms “Intuition” or “Direct Knowing.” We use these words interchangeably. However, our independent research indicates that they are a separate phenomenon with special functions. We have adequately modelled this into a computer simulation (Stratuit © – Strategic Intuition), and there were some interesting observations.

There are some similarities in both the terms but some fundamental differences.

Similarities

  • Hunches and Gut Feelings are both outputs of intuitive processing.
  • Both have a Felt Sense (body-based) component and an intangible mental construct (thought/unfolding sequential experience).
  • They stream into our consciousness along with other processing outputs, and only trained individuals can differentiate between the signal versus noise.
  • They are both hypotheses, i.e., a rule of thumb guesses (heuristic) which require further evaluation/combinatorial usage to make sense of them.
  • They both knock on the threshold of our awareness (consciousness) at low volume, and if ignored, they retreat into the black box of unconscious processing.
  • They are both pattern recognition processes and form two (2) of the 26 pattern recognition processes by the human mind.
  • They are both error-prone and can lead us astray.
  • They both require significant training to lead us to accurate results.
  • As they are both outputs of heuristic processing, their optimality/accuracy is directly proportional to the optimality/precision/comprehensive of the Intuitive Processing.
  • Both processes are low-level processes that require high-level decoding in context-dependent situations.
  • Both methods can automatically control behaviour when somatic markers are activated in similar contexts.

Male body outline. Vector illustration

Male body outline. Vector illustration

Key Differences

  • Hunches are psychological markers that we can feel all over our body but are predominately felt in the encircled area (body outline). Vector illustration
  • Gut Feelings are activated by the vagus nerve in the gut lining and are predominantly felt in the shown area.
  • Hunches are general purpose output processes that provide us with a broad range of hypothesis from problem-solving, creativity to Bullshit Detection and more than 28 other functions.
  • Gut Feelings are special purpose output processes, and their primary function is to activate fear/anxiety related contexts to protect us from immediate danger in our surrounding. Mis-managed gut feelings can lead to free-floating anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Hunches are responsible for output processing of intuitive insights, intuitive foresight, and intuitive hindsight; however, gut feelings are survival mechanism related data streams.

In summary, both Gut feelings and Hunches are physiological markers in the body that knock at the fringe of our consciousness to provide a wider and multi-dimensional view of our environment and relationships. The similarities end here; Gut Feelings provide special purpose functional outputs whereas Hunches are general purpose functional outputs. Both are hypothesis and are error-prone. Both can be trained to improve output and pattern recognition in particular contexts. Both the types can work differently across the intuitive spectrum, i.e., expertise, creation, and foresight.

Hunches, Gut Feelings and Routine Processing Outputs share the same workspace (conscious mind) where all the streaming outputs are homogeneously mixed. As such, it is difficult without adequate training to pinpoint the source of the outputs.

Read the previous article “What are the key differences between Intuition, Instincts and Insights“?

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