Measuring Intuition: Nonconscious Emotional Information Boosts Decision Accuracy and Confidence

Psychol Sci. 2016 May;27(5):622-34. doi: 10.1177/0956797616629403. Epub 2016 Apr 6.


The long-held popular notion of intuition has garnered much attention both academically and popularly. Although most people agree that there is such a phenomenon as intuition, involving emotionally charged, rapid, unconscious processes, little compelling evidence supports this notion. Here, we introduce a technique in which subliminal emotional information is presented to subjects while they make fully conscious sensory decisions. Our behavioral and physiological data, along with evidence-accumulator models, show that nonconscious emotional information can boost accuracy and confidence in a concurrent emotion-free decision task, while also speeding up response times. Moreover, these effects were contingent on the specific predictive arrangement of the nonconscious emotional valence and motion direction in the decisional stimulus. A model that simultaneously accumulates evidence from both physiological skin conductance and conscious decisional information provides an accurate description of the data. These findings support the notion that nonconscious emotions can bias concurrent nonemotional behavior-a process of intuition.

Keywords: decision making; diffusion decision model; emotion; intuition; unconscious.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intuition
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology