Archive for 14 junio 2013

Intuitive decisions


When making decisions, experts do not necessarily engage rationally in an analytical sense, they have developed their expertise and knowledge to such an extent that they do not always require conscious, volitive or explicit reasoning. Experts seem to usually know what to do in a given situation without necessarily defaulting to rational thought and inference (of course It does not follow that they are always right).

This behaviour of knowing occurs effortlessly and without deliberate analysis and is usually referred to as ‘intuition’. As it was already signalled by Glöckner and Witteman (2010), it is obvious that the intuitive processes are crucial for making decisions. The concept of intuition needs further exploration in order to clear it from the magical or mystical connotation it has in everyday language.

Intuition refers to an evaluation:

  1. of which we are rapidly consciously aware,
  2. with reasons of which we are not fully conscious,
  3. that is sufficiently strong to make us act thereon.

Intuition works thanks to the application of heuristics intended to operate within limits of time, knowledge and computational capacity, without applying calculation of probabilities or utility, as prescribed by the classical models (Gigerenzer, 2008; Todd and Gigerenzer, 2000). Herbert Simon (1992, p.13) offers a definition of skilled intuition:

In everyday speech, we use the word intuition to describe a problem-solving or question-answering performance that is speedy and for which the expert is unable to describe in in detail the reasoning or other process that produced the answer. The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.

It is interesting to note that this definition is accepted by authors belonging to opposite paradigms such as Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman (Kahneman and Klein, 2009).

Klein (1998, p.31) argues that ‘Intuition depends on the use of experience to recognise key patterns that indicate the dynamics of the situation’. The patterns are subtle and may evade conscious awareness, which means recognising reality without knowing that we are recognising it or how is happening (Gigerenzer, 2008; Klein, 1998). Most of the processes that we frequently call intuition are processes of recognition (Simon, 1999). The capacity of recognition comes from experience, often what is recognised is the deviation from a pattern or expectation more than the recognition of a prototype as such. For recognition, experts use patterns of cues more than the recognition of a particular isolated cue (Klein, 1998).

There are different models of intuition based in so-called dual processing, which indicate a clear distinction between intuitive, automatic processes on one hand and deliberate, conscious processes on the other. Stanovich and West (2000) propose a system 1 and a system 2 dual-process theory, which was adopted by authors such as Kahneman (2003), who describes system 1 as being highly associative, fast, automatic and usually emotionally charged (i.e. intuition). It is implicit – meaning that it is not available to introspection – and governed by habit and therefore difficult to control or modify. The system 2 of reasoning is slow, costly in cognitive terms, likely to be conscious and controllable in most situations (Kahneman, 2003). For a detailed treatment of dual-process theory see Osman (2004).

Authors such as Glöckner and Witteman (2010) argue that intuition is not an even concept but rather a group of different cognitive mechanisms:

  1. intuitive association based on simple learning retrieval processes,
  2. matching intuition based on comparison with prototypes,
  3. accumulative intuition based on evidence accumulation,
  4. construction intuition based on the construction of mental representations.

A model of intuition

The figure below (adapted from Klein, 2003) can be taken as a model of intuitive decision making based in pattern-recognition. This model depicts four steps:

  1. A situation generates cues.
  2. Cues allow decision makers to recognise patterns.
  3. Patterns activate action scripts.
  4. Action scripts are implemented to affect the situation.


Two processes that are related to intuition are those of pattern matching and the activation of action scripts, which can occur in an instant and without conscious reasoning (Klein, 2003). The decision maker translates her experience into judgements and decisions based on a process of pattern-recognition and pattern-matching. Once the decision maker gains sense of the situation, she monitors for cues and recognises patterns, which activate routines for responding: the so-called action scripts. The pattern tells the decision maker what to do and the action script indicates how to do it. An action script is thus a kind of routine for making things happen but is a general course of action, not one that can be carried out algorithmically as a sequence of steps. In fact, it needs to be contextualised and adapted to the situation in order to be adopted, requiring expertise to be executed. In general, experts have a greater collection of actions scripts at their disposal (Klein, 2003).

See Glöckner and Witteman (2010) for a comprehensive overview of categorisation of processes underlying intuitive judgement and decision making


GIGERENZER, G. (2008) Decisiones instintivas, Barcelona: Ariel.

GLÖCKNER, A. & WITTEMAN, C. (2010) ‘Beyond dual-process models: A categorisation of processes underlying intuitive judgement and decision making’, Thinking & Reasoning, 16(1), 1-25.

KAHNEMAN, D. (2003) ‘A Perspective on Judgment and Choice: Mapping Bounded Rationality’, American Psychologist, 58(9), 697-720.

KAHNEMAN, D. & KLEIN, G. A. (2009) ‘Conditions for intuitive expertise: a failure to disagree’, The American psychologist, 64(6), 515-26.

KLEIN, G. (1998) Sources of Power, Cambridge: The MIT Press.

KLEIN, G. (2003) The power of intuition, New York: Currency Books.

OSMAN, M. (2004) ‘An evaluation of dual-process theories of reasoning’, Psychonomic Bulletin Review, 11(6), 988-1010.

SIMON, H. (1992) ‘What is an explanation of behavior?’, Psychological Science, 3(3), 150–161.

SIMON, H. (1999) ‘Problem Solving’, in: WILSON, R. & KEIL, F. (eds.), The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, 674-676, Cambridge: The MIT Press.

STANOVICH, K. E. & WEST, R. F. (2000) ‘Individual differences in reasoning: implications for the rationality debate?’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23(5), 645-665; discussion 665-726.

TODD, P. M. & GIGERENZER, G. (2000) ‘Précis of Simple heuristics that make us smart’, The Behavioral and brain sciences, 23(5), 727-741.