Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Sophie from Glendale, CA. Sophie Wonders, “What is intuition?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Sophie!

Have you ever had a gut feeling? How about a hunch? Do you know someone who thinks they may have a sixth sense? Believe it or not, these are all different ways to describe the same thing. It’s a phenomenon most people call intuition.

What is intuition? Psychology defines it as the ability to make decisions without relying on analytical reasoning. You may have heard it called “women’s intuition” or “mother’s intuition.” But rest assured, intuition isn’t restricted to any one gender or parental status.

Instead, experts believe intuition is based in science. If you’ve been WONDERing with us for a while, you may have read about the science behind fear. If so, you know about the hippocampus—a part of your brain. This region makes many decisions without you even knowing it. It does so based on information you’ve learned from past experiences.

Intuition works in a similar way. In fact, scientists think the hippocampus plays a role in building your intuition, as well. Your brain is great at recognizing patterns and learning from experiences. When it has helpful information, it’ll make sure you’re aware of it. 

Hunches may seem like they come out of nowhere. However, no one is aware of every single thing their brain does. The unconscious mind is constantly making small choices based on instinct. Have you ever seemed to “just know” something? If so, you were likely sensing something your brain already knew based on past experience.

Let’s think about an example. Have you ever had the feeling that someone wasn’t being completely honest with you? Unfortunately, most people have. Imagine you found out later that you were right. This may make your initial judgment seem like a psychic ability.

However, you weren’t mind reading. Instead, you were using intuition. Your unconscious mind could have picked up on many cues that signaled dishonesty. For example, maybe your brain noticed that the other person wasn’t making eye contact. Based on prior experience, it warned you—through intuition—that something wasn’t quite right.

If all this happens in your brain, then why is intuition sometimes called a “gut feeling”? The brain and gut actually share a strong connection. Neurons, the cells responsible for brain activity, are also present in the abdominal organs. These cells allow the brain and gut to communicate. That’s why, when your brain wants to warn you about something, you may experience a stomach ache.

Do you have intuition? Good news: Everyone does! And the more life experience you gain, the stronger your intuition will become. But you may be WONDERing . . . can intuition be trusted?

Often, the answer is yes. Many experts say that following intuition can help people make good decisions. However, it’s always important to take evidence into account when it’s available. If your intuition goes against solid facts, it may be best to think again.

The human brain is capable of amazing things. Can you remember a time when your intuition was right? What could have helped your brain reach the right conclusion?

Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA. R.1, CCRA.SL.4, CCRA.SL. 2

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow, Wonderopolis takes a look at everyday people thrust into extraordinary situations.