Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Science of Intuition

How the body translates unconscious information into gut instinct.

Key points

  • Our bodily instincts contain important information that can help us rapidly process the outside world.
  • By tuning into these channels of information, we're better able to make centered decisions.
  • It is essential for all of us to foster our own centeredness, self-awareness, and intuition at this moment in history.

Through the ubiquitous media—and the technology and consumerism which drives it—our attention is captured, held, and force-fed with the beliefs, opinions, and “facts” of others. So skillful are the social engineers who create the algorithms of our information ecosystem, we can become confused about and even disconnected from our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. In this new reality, it is growing increasingly important that we know the difference between what comes from the outside and what stirs within. It is critical that we learn to listen to the thoughts, feelings, and intuitions that arise from deep within us.

While it may be easier to passively absorb the view of others without consulting ourselves, quieting the noise from the outside world and turning inward long enough to listen to the signals from our own minds, bodies, and brains, will make us better equipped to make sound decisions in this confusing and tumultuous world. Theories of decision-making have traditionally been based on a logical and rational application of conscious cost-benefit analyses. Yet most of us have the sense that there is more to making good decisions than drawing up a list of pros and cons. While we are thinking things through, it seems that there are other processes going on inside us which influence our choices, sometimes overriding what we think is most logical. A highly successful gambler, business strategist, or athlete always seems to have a sixth sense about what to do — an intuition they may not even be able to articulate, which helps them to beat the odds.

There is a great deal of incoming information and interpersonal processing taking place outside of conscious awareness in the neural networks that organize emotion and sensory and somatic information. This is how we come to know things without knowing we know them. Often, in retrospect, after something has gone wrong, we begin to become aware of all the indications that were drowned out or ignored within the stream of conscious processing. These clues, only vaguely recognized and mostly unattended to at the time, gain meaning and clarity in the rearview mirror. They are appraisals of the world around us that we often don’t even realize that we’re making. Sometimes they manifest in the body as a stomach ache or muscle tension; other times there is simply an unidentified feeling about what you should or shouldn’t do. In the words of Jonas Salk, “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.”

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio theorized that we evolved to use these bodily cues such as muscle tone, heart rate, and endocrine activity in order to make rapid decisions about how to navigate the physical and social worlds. These “somatic markers” translate unconscious emotions and sensations into felt instinct. This evolutionary strategy allows us to make quick decisions that require minimal thought to enhance survival. In the modern world, these instincts can be interwoven with rational thought to improve decision-making.

Know and trust that intuition is rooted in science. Gut feelings are the result of many channels of information processing, and provide a road map that integrates our emotions and physical sensations with a given environment. This is precisely why it is essential for all of us to foster our own centeredness, self-awareness, and intuition at this moment in history. Learning to read all of the input from the world means balancing reason with emotion held within the stillness at our core. As we struggle to make decisions about our lives in these confusing and difficult times, it is more important than ever to listen to and nurture these vital instincts.


Cozolino, L. J. (2020). The pocket guide to neuroscience for clinicians. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Damasio, A. R. (2000). Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Quill.

More from Lou Cozolino, Ph.D., Chloe Drulis, and Carly Samuelson
More from Psychology Today
More from Lou Cozolino, Ph.D., Chloe Drulis, and Carly Samuelson
More from Psychology Today