The Surprising Science Behind Your Gut Reactions

Dacy Knight
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Daniel Zuchnik/Getty

We're often told to go with our gut, but when it comes time to make big decisions, we tend to shy away from gut feelings in favor of rational decision making. Anyone who's read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is familiar with the fact that there's a lot more complexity to unconscious decisions we make in the blink of an eye. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and highlighted by The Washington Post furthers these assertions, suggesting a correlation between going with your gut and finding success.

The study focused on a group whose jobs rely on daily split-second decision making—stock market traders. John Coates, a former derivatives trader who now works as a neuroscientist, focused part of the research on interoception—the ability to pick up on the bodily signals we colloquially term as "gut feelings." These sensations go way beyond the gut to inform the heart, lungs, bladder, bowels, and skin of their emotional states like doubt, anxiety, and pain. The study found that the more a trader was in tune with these bodily signals, measured by their precision at counting their own heartbeats, the better their profit and loss record and the more experience they had survived in the market. In short, the better at detecting "gut feelings," the more successful the individual.

What can be learned from this study? The way in which the most successful stock market traders use gut feelings to inform how they should trade on the markets provides a noteworthy takeaway for how you may want to approach your own decision making. Sometimes our most instinctual reactions are the ones that best inform us, before rationalization and overthinking step in to muddy the waters. So the next time you're faced with a risky decision, trust your gut.

What is your take on these findings? How have you approached your most difficult decisions? Do you find success in going with your gut?

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