How accurate is intuition?
Photo by Bret Kavanaugh

Intuition is a deep sense of knowing. It’s instantly knowing what to do without having a logical explanation. But how accurate is intuition?

Intuition and Heuristics 

Intuitive decisions can be grounded in heuristics. Heuristics are mental shortcuts or rules of thumb that people use to make decisions quickly and efficiently. These are cognitive strategies that simplify complex tasks or problems, allowing individuals to make judgments and decisions with less effort and time. Heuristics are often employed when faced with uncertainty or when processing extensive information is impractical.

There are several types of heuristics, and the most common ones are the representativeness heuristic and the availability heuristic.

Representativeness Heuristic

Representativeness heuristic involves making judgments about the probability of an event based on how similar it is to a prototype. For example, if someone fits our mental image of a certain category, we may assume they have other characteristics typical of that category.

Availability Heuristic

Availability heuristic involves making judgments about the likelihood of events based on their availability in memory, often due to its recent occurrence, emotional impact, or vividness. This heuristic is employed to assess the frequency or probability of events, with more easily recalled instances considered more likely or prevalent.

How accurate is intuition as per heuristics?

The accuracy of intuition, guided by heuristics, can vary depending on several factors. While intuition can lead to accurate and effective decisions, it is not infallible, and there are limitations to relying solely on heuristics for decision-making. Here are some factors to consider:

Experience and Expertise

Intuition tends to be more accurate when individuals have extensive experience and expertise in a particular domain. Experts often develop reliable heuristics through years of practice and exposure to various situations, allowing them to make quick and accurate decisions.

For instance, research reveals that nurses have repeatedly stated that they rely on intuitive hunches when making clinical decisions. These hunches are considered to have heuristic components as reflected in the nurses’ dialogues.

Decision Context and Complexity

The appropriateness of intuitive decision-making also depends on the context. In situations where time is limited, and there is a need for a quick response, intuition guided by heuristics can be valuable. However, in contexts where careful analysis and consideration are crucial, relying solely on intuition may be risky.

That said, intuition and heuristics are better suited for simple and routine decisions rather than complex ones. In complex situations, where multiple factors come into play, a more analytical and deliberate decision-making process may be necessary to consider all relevant information.

Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias, availability bias, and anchoring bias, can influence the way heuristics are applied and impact the accuracy of intuitive decisions.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias may lead individuals to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs, potentially overlooking contradictory evidence.

Imagine an someone who strongly believes in the health benefits of a specific dietary supplement. They come across various articles and testimonials online that support the positive effects of the supplement, reinforcing their existing belief. However, when confronted with scientific studies or testimonials that present conflicting evidence or suggest potential risks, the individual may unconsciously downplay or dismiss this information.

In this case, confirmation bias influences the person to selectively attend to information that aligns with their preconceived notion about the supplement’s efficacy, while neglecting or minimizing data that contradicts their belief. This bias can hinder objective evaluation and decision-making, as the individual inadvertently seeks and favors information that confirms what they already believe to be true about the dietary supplement.

Availability Bias

Availability bias might cause individuals to rely on readily available information, even if it is not representative of the overall situation.

Imagine a person, Taylor, is asked to estimate the likelihood of shark attacks while swimming in the ocean. Taylor recently watched a documentary that highlighted a few dramatic shark attack incidents, making them vivid and easily recalled in Taylor’s memory.

Despite the fact that these instances are relatively rare and not representative of the overall probability of encountering a shark while swimming, Taylor might overestimate the likelihood of such an event due to the readily available and emotionally impactful memories from the documentary.

In this case, availability bias influences Taylor’s estimation, causing them to rely on easily recalled instances (the shark attacks from the documentary) rather than considering a more comprehensive and statistically grounded assessment of the actual probability of a shark encounter. Availability bias can lead individuals to give undue weight to memorable but atypical events, affecting their perception of the likelihood of certain occurrences.

Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias, on the other hand, refers to the tendency of individuals to rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered (the “anchor”) when making decisions. This initial information sets the tone for subsequent judgments, even if it is irrelevant or arbitrary. Once the anchor is established, individuals may adjust their estimates or decisions from that initial reference point.

For instance, in pricing negotiations, the first offer made often serves as the anchor. Subsequent adjustments are typically made relative to this initial proposal, influencing the final agreed-upon price. This bias can impact intuitive decision-making by tethering judgments to an initial point, potentially leading to skewed assessments of value or probability.

Being aware of these biases and actively working to mitigate their impact is crucial when relying on intuition and heuristics. Balancing intuitive judgments with a conscious effort to minimize biases can contribute to more accurate and well-rounded decision-making processes. 


In summary, the accuracy of intuition guided by heuristics is influenced by factors such as experience, relevance of past experiences, and the complexity of the decision. While intuition can be a valuable and efficient decision-making tool in certain situations, it is essential to complement it with critical thinking, especially in complex or novel scenarios. Striking a balance between intuition and a more analytical approach is often key to making well-rounded and informed decisions.

In addition, it’s important to note that while heuristics can be helpful, they can also lead to cognitive biases and errors. Individuals may rely too heavily on heuristics and overlook relevant information or fall victim to biases that can result in suboptimal decisions. Balancing intuition with critical thinking and being aware of potential biases is crucial for making well-informed decisions.

For more insights about intuition, download our eBook, The Psychology of Intuition. Within these pages, we delve into the scientific underpinnings behind the gut feeling, providing valuable insights on how you can nurture and trust this powerful aspect within your psyche.

Sneak Peek of the book!: The Psychology of Intuition: The Human Mind and Intuition

If you liked our article, How Accurate is Intuition?, you will like:

Intuition is the Highest Form of Intelligence
The Psychology of Intuition: Ebook
8 Ways on How to Be More Intuitive
Trusting Your Gut Feeling About Someone
Bad Gut Feeling for No Reason
Unraveling the Origins: Where Does Intuition Come From?
Best Quotes About Intuition
How to Listen to Your Intuition in Relationships: 7 Insightful Tips
12 Signs You’re an Intuitive Person
Carl Jung’s Insights on Intuition
Can Intuition Be Wrong?

For more information about heuristics:

What are Heuristics?
Research and Heuristics
Kahneman’s Theory of Decision Making

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Sarah Peláez is a Clinical Psychologist, Learning Therapist, and author of “The Psychology of Intuition.”