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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 2006, Vol. 18, No. 12, Pages 2077-2087
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.12.2077)
© 2006 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
What Neuroscience Can Tell about Intuitive Processes in the Context of Perceptual Discovery
Article PDF (219.5 KB)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, intuition is “the ability to understand or know something immediately, without conscious reasoning.” Most people would agree that intuitive responses appear as ideas or feelings that subsequently guide our thoughts and behaviors. It is proposed that people continuously, without conscious attention, recognize patterns in the stream of sensations that impinge upon them. What exactly is being recognized is not clear yet, but we assume that people detect potential content based on only a few aspects of the input (i.e., the gist). The result is a vague perception of coherence which is not explicitly describable but instead embodied in a “gut feeling” or an initial guess, which subsequently biases thought and inquiry. To approach the nature of intuitive processes, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging when participants were working at a modified version of the Waterloo Gestalt Closure Task. Starting from our conceptualization that intuition involves an informed judgment in the context of discovery, we expected activation within the median orbito-frontal cortex (OFC), as this area receives input from all sensory modalities and has been shown to be crucially involved in emotionally driven decisions. Results from a direct contrast between intuitive and nonintuitive judgments, as well as from a parametric analysis, revealed the median OFC, the lateral portion of the amygdala, anterior insula, and ventral occipito-temporal regions to be activated. Based on these findings, we suggest our definition of intuition to be promising and a good starting point for future research on intuitive processes.