When does human intuition fail?

ntuition determines our actions, also in business life. By means of intuition, people come to a judgment without knowing how the respective judgment is made. Executives in business in particular have to constantly form their own judgments; they make decisions without being noticed. If the subject is complicated, the complexity of this process increases: judgments have to be made on different levels. Decisions made intuitively are based on judgments that were made in fractions of a second and can lead to concrete actions. This suggests that since intuition cannot be controlled, it is all the more important to understand it.

The American doctor and psychiatrist Eric Berne was particularly interested in intuition. The following are based on his concepts of intuition. First of all, the Bernese definition of intuition: "An intuition is knowledge that is based on experience and is acquired through direct contact with what is perceived, without the person who perceives intuitively being able to explain to himself or to others exactly how he came to the conclusion."1 This definition refers to intuition as the result of intuition. First, however, we want to focus our attention on intuition as a function or as a process.

Intuition can be understood as a function or as a process in which we compose all possible impressions and fantasies into a picture of reality in the shortest possible time. Based on this intuitive image or judgment, we control our behavior and experience, regardless of whether we are aware of this image or not. In the following, in addition to the self-explanatory effect of the behavior, we also assume an effect of our own experience. The recent research on mirror neurons2 suggests that others experience what we are experiencing intuitively. Of course, one could say that there has to be a behavior, otherwise the experience is not communicated. However, from a pragmatic point of view, such a distinction is of no importance.

Both the emergence of an intuition and its effect on experience and behavior cannot be explained. Often the person making the judgment does not even know that he is judging and which judgment was made as a result, but he or she orients his experience and actions accordingly. Only by observing one's own experience and behavior can one draw conclusions afterwards about the judgment on which this action was probably based. One often only gets on the track of experience and action by observing other people's reactions to them and drawing conclusions from them as to how one is well understood. Of course, the reaction of others can be based on a false intuitive judgment, but it is wise to take a closer look when certain understandings repeat themselves. Even if you are sure that you are being misunderstood by others, it is worth knowing more about common misunderstandings. Because they always have an impact. Then you can also try to describe the judgment, which shows itself as action knowledge, in language.

When they mean intuition, some speak of a "gut feeling" or of "gut decisions". This, too, is just a metaphor that says that I cannot rationally explain my judgment and how it came about. To what extent the intuition phenomenon can be explained at all remains unclear. Independently of this, we try to find descriptions with which we can pragmatically approach an understanding of the phenomenon. Since hardly anyone can seriously deny the existence and the effect of intuition, we should deal with it in general and each should deal with it specifically in his or her context.

So we try to characterize the process and the ability of intuition more precisely. Intuition helps to integrate data from various spheres into information. These data help the organism to organize and orientate itself. It is now interesting from which areas of reality data are selected and made into information, with which perspective judgments are made and what type of judgments are made.

By dealing with the processes of judgment formation and its results, we can get to know and use our intuitions better. Such a purification process is the subject of professional qualification.

Like every judgment about reality, intuition must be described and critically questioned in various dimensions. Intuitive judgment can, for example, be wrong or right, qualified or unqualified, biased or impartial, conventional or creative, narrow-minded or farsighted, spooky or facing the world, loving or merciless. "Intuitive" is neither a seal of approval nor a disqualification. When we deal with intuition, we have to deal with the worldviews and the judgment that is revealed in intuition.

Intuition is part of our culture and is neither in a positive nor in a negative sense a natural force that has been buried through education and can only be released. Like any judgment, intuition is to be seen in connection with the personal development of people and the culture in which they move. Intuitive control means neither control according to a different, better intelligence, nor thoughtless control that is uncontrolled in its motives and interests. Controlling intuitively means being able to process complex data into information in a way that we could not process it consciously and in an explainable way. Controlling intuitively also means that this process is incredibly fast and can be implemented directly in action regardless of the translation into language.

The main achievement of intuition is the lightning-fast behavior control in complex situations. This certainly has to do with the evolution of intuition: "he" drinks at the source, looks up, and there stands the wolf. Now he has no time, for example, to make considerations like this, but instead he flees or he fights. And these impressions have to be converted into behavior in a highly integrative way. Certainly, this service developed in humans in a similar way to complex controls in other species. A decisive difference is perhaps that the same control principles have also passed over into the assessment and shaping of reality in a cultural sense in humans.

Using the example of ancestors and the wolf, one can easily imagine the evolutionary benefits of this evolving mental control. It also makes plausible that control is initially directly linked to action and networking with language is only of secondary importance. One can also imagine that the judgment shown in action will soon be specified in different areas of life and functions. Hunters and gatherers, potters and basket weavers will each study different role models and gain experience that will lead to a corresponding development of intuition. Intuitive judgment has probably always had something to do with the life and development interests of those who judge and cannot be understood without understanding their developing culture of life. It is only consistent when we try to understand professional intuition by looking into the mirror of our professional self-image and interests at the same time.

The question that should be asked is what importance should be attached to symbolic modes of expression and the developing languages ​​as part of an intuitive control organization. First of all, it makes sense to imagine that intuition is in the service of the simplest vital interests for survival and development. At the same time, one can observe that people can also organize themselves intuitively in other social contexts that do not necessarily have to do with the direct satisfaction of primary needs. So could z. B. Kekulé intuitively visualize the chemical formula of benzene with the pictorial representation of the benzene ring as a snake biting its tail.3

One can therefore assume that the ability of intuition can focus on references to reality and the creative handling of realities that can be located relatively far from the immediate satisfaction of needs.

Taboos, competence and habits
Creative reference to reality and corresponding intuitions are hindered or falsified by taboos. Corresponding perceptions are ignored from the interpretation of the situation or are not taken into account in the case of conscious control and / or their unconscious consideration remains unchecked.
Here, Berne assumed that it must be restrictions associated with fear through socialization that explain such fades. A classic example of this is the perceived prohibition on showing the incompatibility of messages. "Crazy" attempts at adaptation can result. In the past, topics such as sex, money or power were tied to taboos; today these could be more topics such as individual religiosity or the effect of the milieu.

Two other impairments are significant. They could often be more decisive than taboos and they need more than education to get rid of them:

:: The ability to make judgments is impaired by a lack of training and experience. Often the need for context-, role-, situation- and field-specific competence for professional intuition is not even recognized and one believes that one can simply adopt experiences from other areas of life. Without training and specific experience, the art connoisseur as a music lover remains just as much a layman as the expert in psychotherapy as an organizational consultant (and vice versa).

:: The creative handling of reality is impaired by professional habits. Habits, especially when they come as a matter of course, replace open, new considerations. It is easier to fit the unknown into known frames than to question the frames and develop new ones. In a kind of creativity laziness one tends to be content with habitual explanations and consequent habitual procedures. As long as the demands of the environment do not shake such habits or one moves in circles that stabilize and justify these habits, one remains in his habitual framework. Some species that did not get into crisis while there was still a chance for readjustment have become extinct. If you want to recognize your own habits, you should listen carefully when meeting people from other circles and professions and not immediately dismiss their astonishment or alienation as ignorance. Multidisciplinary training and communities counter one-sidedness and sectarian dynamics.

If you look at these impairment areas, you can easily imagine how intuition can be limited and falsified, how creative judgment can be lost in human encounters. A prerequisite for a revitalization of judgment and the release of creative forces is that one identifies the impairments and thinks about remedies. Another good prerequisite for creative judgment is the willingness to experiment with the inclusion of new data in the assessment and control.

Experience with intuition as a function
It is true that you cannot explain intuition, but it is worthwhile to gather experience while working with intuition. Here are some descriptions by Berne given first.

According to Eric Berne, working with intuition is promising if, on the one hand, one is relatively rested and, on the other hand, takes the time to find an intuitive posture. For the psychoanalyst this means to focus on the patient and to free one's attention from things that do not serve to grasp the therapeutic situation with the patient. In this way that "floating attention" can be developed, on the basis of which one can perceive the intuitively arising images and understandings without prejudice and has space to put them - at least for oneself - in language and to determine how to deal with them. You can practice getting yourself into an intuitive mood.

In order to adopt such an intuitive attitude, it is helpful to create a constant, familiar environment in which only those things change that should be the subject of intuitive judgment. A relatively stable and familiar background creates the framework for intuitive assessment of the foreground thus envisaged. The direction and focus of attention according to given categories hinders intuition. It works best with strangers in relation to humans. Familiarity is more of an obstacle than an aid to intuition.

However, one seems to be able to fall out of specific, intuitive moods - especially through longer interruptions and orientation of attention to other perspectives of reality. The accuracy in guessing the professions of the participants in sample examinations initially fell severely after a one-day break. For example, one can also find that certain professional intuitions - for example after a long vacation - are "rusty" and only become functional again through repeated use.

:: Tired of intuition
Intuitive work tires the intuitioner. Although there is not necessarily a lot of activity on the outside, people who work with great attention to their intuitions are on the one hand mentally alert, on the other hand, after a while, mentally and physically exhausted. A high level of intuitive activity seems to be just as strenuous as a concentrated game of chess.

:: Intuition is impaired by pressure
Intuitive processes are disrupted when the intuitioner is put to the test and experienced under pressure. If he does not have enough constructive mechanisms to cope with emerging probation anxiety, intuitive judgment can fail completely.

:: Intuition fades when it is uniform
Intuition has no problem with complexity and the parallel processing of impressions on various levels. However, intuition weakens with frequent, especially uniform, use. In assessment experiments, the intuitive accuracy did not decrease when assessments were to be made in several dimensions at the same time. Intuition doesn't seem to affect one another. One will probably have to add here: as long as they lie in dimensions of reality that the intuitioner can integrate into himself or allow to coexist without conflict.

Berne characterizes the intuitive process as follows: "Everything is automatically" brought into order "just below the level of consciousness; Factors "perceived subconsciously" are classified, "automatically" take their place and are included in the final impression, which is ultimately put into words with some uncertainty.

Extensions to professions in general
In order to reopen intuition in its relevance for professional self-organization and the control of professional encounters as well as for the life of professionals and for professional culture, two specifications made by Berne in the understanding of the profession and in the psychotherapeutic concept formation should first be questioned and newly released for general professional questions become.

The focus of the judgment on primarily private-personal characteristics of other people seems to be a one-sided interest in personality from the point of view of psychotherapy. In this respect, this already seems to be a perspective restricted by professional conventions, i.e. only these dimensions are considered when describing and training intuition. Contrary to what Berne assumed, the intuitive assessment of situations and people can, for example, be geared towards their professional habits. It can be perceived intuitively whether an organization member in his way of presenting himself in a meeting stands for a conservative or an innovative corporate culture. It can be assessed intuitively whether, in the event of a conflict, he would give priority to the pursuit of objective goals or the appreciation of human-social concerns in relationships, whether he would be interested and able to integrate both concerns. In situations, it can also be intuitively grasped at lightning speed whether the communication can lead to the goal in the time available and whether the individual contributions to the conversation, even if they are factually different, are geared towards consensus, or whether the processes diverge, organizational strands diverge and opinions polarize.

Systemic attitudes such as resource and solution orientation are a decisive addition to the professional orientation of many fields of practice, not just psychotherapy. They create a climate in which problems are dealt with, if necessary with a view to solutions and resources (in the sense of competencies and positive effects). Attitudes, focussing and the formation of judgments, including intuitive ones, are encouraged in this direction. Resources for constructive reality can be brought to the fore in the development phases.Even in stressed realities, solution realities and unused resources are made the essential objects of consideration.

Intuitive complexity control
Reality becomes bottomless through the reality-constructive perspective. We notice how many degrees of freedom there are in the understanding of reality, in professional self-definitions and self-organizations. Obvious realities and professionally correct handling of them dissolve. So far, these have provided support, but conventional self-image and professional self-control can no longer meet the requirements of today's complexity and dynamism. Even intuition must be freed from grown habits. At the same time, intuitions must not be surrendered to creative arbitrariness.

This emphasizes the need to purposefully purify intuition through professional qualification. Targeted cannot be called scientific-methodical, because otherwise it would no longer be intuitive. Rather, scientific-methodical and unconscious-intuitive procedures must be integrated in the process of intuition training. This is done, for example, through situational questioning of the intuitions that work in professional situations, for example in supervision. Here, one intuitions should not simply be juxtaposed with others. Rather, it should be consciously realigned from a meta-perspective intuition. Self-control and the control of intuition using an appropriate technical language must also be practiced. With such - also intuitive - meta-control, our intuition can align itself context-, role-, situation- and strategy-specific. Something like a consciously alignable, but ultimately uncontrollable intuition is learned.

In the case of a complicated heart operation, it can really be more important if the surgeon or the team focuses exclusively on the complex organization of the process and only uses other intuitions when relevant - for example with regard to the personality and personal fate of the patient, the private personal state of mind the team members present or the assessment of the impact of organizational structures and their improvements. Even if it is assumed that intuition as a function has an enormous processing capacity, it still makes sense not to burden this system with processes that are irrelevant at the moment. We have to set priorities in order to remain able to act and should only consider other intuitions marginally.

This raises the question of how much people can abstract from the orientation towards the personality of others and the opportunities to meet them. How can focussing of intuition be geared towards a professional meeting purpose? Does this disregard of other human qualities of encounter necessarily lead to a depleted functioning of intuition and to an emptying of emotional significance in organizational and professional cultures? This danger does exist when humanity is only located in separate areas of life and not as an integral part of professional roles and institutional functions and finds its form there appropriately. Professionalism today requires the integration of human perspectives into the design of every function or role. The essence of each role, however, has to find a form that suits it.

If one looks at the concept of intuition not only from the Bernese perspective, an almost infinite variety of dimensions of reality opens up to which intuition can relate. Since the inner reality of a person is influenced by how the outer world is perceived and interpreted and vice versa, strictly speaking from a systemic point of view, one cannot assume that outer and inner realities can ultimately be differentiated. Nevertheless, we have to use these figures of thought and language pragmatically. Quite apart from the quality of the judgments, intuitive judgment formation is important because of its orienting function in complex situations. If this function fails, self-organization disintegrates. People react confused, depressed, and desperate. Or they organize themselves into anger and struggle if they believe that others are the cause.


1 Berne, Eric (1991): Transactional Analysis of Intuition. - a contribution from ego psychology. Paderborn, p. 36.
2 Bauer, Joachim (2005): Why I feel what you feel. Intuitive communication and the secret of the mirror neurons. Hamburg.
3 C.G. Based on a dream by the German chemist Kekulé, Jung shows that the uroboros is not an unfamiliar symbol. For example, when Kekulé was investigating the molecular structure of benzene, he dreamed of a snake biting its own tail, which he interpreted as a benzene ring.