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Gut Feeling Might Help You Make Better Decisions

Gut Feeling Might Help You Make Better Decisions

Have you ever been struck by a feeling of uncertainty or caution when going about your day? You could be walking down the street, totally normal, when you subconsciously notice someone and you think:

“Hey, keep away from that guy” or “Don’t stay here too long”

These feelings can strike at times when everything seems normal. We call these experiences “gut feelings” or “gut instinct” as if it is something bodily and disconnected from the mind.

However this name is not inaccurate. There is a close connection between the gut and the brain composed of a extremely complex network [1] of chemicals and neurons which inform your brain about issues in your body, not just the digestive system as you may expect. Not only does it inform your brain about hunger and thirst, but also stress and unease. Here lies the gut instinct.

But you’re a reasonable person, how can something reactionary, some trigger deep down in your brain stand to intelligent analysis?

Surely these feelings are residual evolutionary stuff, as useful for us today as the tail bone. Well, this is untrue.

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Some studies [2] have shown that it is often a good idea to trust your gut. In 2011 a group of researchers designed a card game wherein there was no real strategic way to play the game, and instead players had to rely on gut instinct.

When people started to win, most credited their victory on trusting their gut instinct. The sweat responses and heart rate of the players was measured to indicate when reactions occurred. Though some gut instincts lead players into playing badly, the general success rate implies that trusting gut instincts and reactions can be a good idea, however it is not a foolproof system (where would the fun in that be?).

When to trust your gut feeling

Though its not always accurate, sometimes its the best indicator you have when picking up trouble. Especially with these examples

Your health: what not to eat

Your enteric nervous system (the above mentioned complex network of chemical reactions and neurons connecting your gut to your brain) is extremely effective at picking up warning signs [3] from your body.

So if you ever suddenly think you shouldn’t have eaten that thing, or a part of your body doesn’t feel right, you should pay attention.

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Paying close attention to feelings in your body, especially if it is as severe as triggering a gut reaction has its benefits.

Some people train and exercise according to attention paid to the body and how it feels, this is called intuitive training, or autoregulatory [4] training.

Dangers and threats: Who not to get close with

Imagine you’re walking home at night, like you have done a million times before and you see a guy on the street corner. He seems totally ordinary, but something just isn’t right. As you get near you get a gut reaction to avoid him.

There are many stories [5]where people have had these reactions and later realized that they were saved from some horrible fate. We have evolved to have immediate responses to dangers that are beyond conscious thought.

Though it is always worth analysing [6] a situation if possible. These gut feelings of danger are always worth consideration.

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It is important to consider I think, we are all descendants of those who survived. Those who didn’t have senses tuned to potential dangers didn’t last.

Though of course perhaps 9 times out of ten you were warned of a non existent danger. Its better to be safe than sorry.

When not to trust your gut feeling: threats from objects

Life in the 21st century is stressful. If you live in a modern city, from the moment you leave your front door, you are bombarded by smells, sounds sights, upon sights than easily put your senses to the test. Though we have evolved enough to be able to function with when we live in places containing more sensory information than anyone in history evolved to deal with. Our ability to spot dangers has not evolved so much.

We, as human beings developed and evolved as in the wild, we were part of the food chain. Being killed by a wild animal was a real and every-day threat, instead of an unusual occurrence. As such we evolved to be able to spot animals extremely quickly and identify them as potential dangers.

You might have experienced this yourself. However our bodies have not adapted to the reality that a car, is far more of a threat than an animal. It has not totally got the message that we are no longer hunter gatherers.

In a study [7] people were shown photographs of animals and inanimate objects. Each photograph had a nearly identical duplicate immediately after, safe for one slight change. Test subjects were able to identify changes in animal scenes 100% of the time, and objects around 70% of the time.

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Because of this, you might get a gut reaction alerting you to a danger that simply isn’t there.

Also, if you have a panic disorder, or problems with your amygdala [8] then you might get gut reactions alerting you to danger, the flight or fight response at times when there is no danger at all. It might even occur randomly.
This I know from experience.

But as demonstrated above, we get these reactions for a reason. Though some times the course of action they lead us towards may be the wrong one, maybe the danger we are alerted to isn’t a danger at all.

There are times when, listening to your gut is the best thing you can do.

Reference

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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