Does trusting your instincts make sense?


As we grow up we develop instincts. These are mental habits that we posses which help us to make everyday choices. These are the kinds of choices that don’t involved much thought at all, they are almost automatic. These quick habits that are “deep-wired and govern our decisions” are heuristics. We’ve been talking about them recently in class and I wanted to find out a little more with what they mean exactly.

Author, Wray Herbert  just-published On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits. 

Herbert does in depth on how heuristics can help or hurt us with our everyday decisions. Many of us are coming to the end of our college careers and at this moment our everyday decisions have a big impact on what happens to us in the next 4 weeks.  Heuristics are helpful for survival, Herbert refers to them as “having deep ancient evolutionary origins.”  He then defines a few that can really mess us up if we aren’t careful.  When applying these to our lives right now there is the “familiarity heuristic” which is being extremely familiar with something that it seems a safe way to go or do. This heuristic leads us o sick with what we have already done and not switching it up. At this point I feel like a lot of us who have been in college for four years now are comfortable with where we are the the habits we have developed. But there is a turning point now where we can’t skip a class here and there just because we have before. We can’t not turn in something or risk doing poorly in a class because there is still another semester or year to make it up. We have to alter our choices to ensure our “survival” of college which ultimately leads to graduation.

Another heuristic is the “scarcity heuristic” which in Hebert’s words means, if something is rare, it’s perceived as more valuable.  This can be good in helping us make choices that we wouldn’t usually make like getting up to go to the gym because you know for the rest of the day you will be sitting down and not moving so the gym is “rare” occasion.

There are many on each side of the good and bad of heuristics. I believe that you should trust your instincts but also we self-aware of the environment or situation that you are in. There is a reason we have our “gut” instinct but we should also be able to stop sometimes and recognize when we need to slow down and not make impulsive decisions.


3 thoughts on “Does trusting your instincts make sense?

  1. jfreud

    I agree with your argument that we can capitalize on the benefits of heuristics while mitigating their downfalls by making sure to engage in self-awareness. Like many aspects of our lives, it seems like being aware that we have these tendencies will help us to some extent. I think it would be interesting to see if research supports this idea.

  2. aestero

    I thought this was a great read and you had good examples to further explain why we should or shouldn’t use certain heuristics for certain times. Being a college senior, and graduating in just a few short weeks, I do have to keep in mind that what I may have gotten away with as a freshmen (such as slacking off), I won’t get away with as a senior. Because skipping class may have been somewhat familiar to me as a freshmen, I know that I shouldn’t turn to that familiarity heuristic and skip class just because. I also liked learning about the ‘scarcity heuristic’ since we didn’t discuss that in class. Overall, I think this was an interesting read which I can relate to.

  3. npalacio

    This semester I have been learning about heuristics in both cognitive and social psychology and I find it interesting how they can be both helpful and detrimental to us. On the one hand, heuristics save us a lot of energy because we aren’t having to process everything we encounter at a deep level. However, because of this, heuristics can lead to us attributing traits to an entire group of people. Rather than getting know everybody in a group as an individual, we just judge them based on the heuristic for the social category they are a part of. This is very harmful and leads to sexism, racism, and other biases. Whether the cons of heuristics outweigh the pros is an interesting philosophical debate.

Comments are closed.