Why We're So Hung Up on Gut Decisions

We want to think of ourselves as rational beings, always using the best data available to us to make the best choices. Too bad our guts get in the way more often than not. We put a lot of stock in gut decisions, and one recent study has a pretty good idea why.

Two marketing professors have just published a study through the American Psychological Association about why we're so attached to our own intuition. Other research has shown that slow, deliberative choices often come out best for us, and that psychological distance tends to produce the best results for big decisions. And yet our brains totally find ways to justify a splurge purchase or make us crave luxury goods. The processes for both seem pretty distinct, but we seem to believe that gut decisions say more about our inner selves than cold rationality.

"Our research suggests that individuals focusing on their feelings in decision-making … come to see their chosen options as more consistent with what is essential, true, and unwavering about themselves," said study lead Sam Maglio in a press release. In other words, because a decision seems to come from an unknown interior process, we believe that it reflects what we most deeply and earnestly desire. A gut decision, then, reflects who we really are.

Making that process about identity rather than choice tends to make people cling harder to the decision, no matter what the evidence against it. It can explain anything from brand loyalty to personal politics to choosing our favorite route to work. There's nothing inherently wrong with a gut decision, but balance things out for yourself — there are definitely times you want to work with data instead.