Gut feelings, better than people expect

Feb. 13, 2009 at 10:20 PM
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EVANSTON, Ill., Feb. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers used precise electrophysiological evidence to show that gut feelings may sometimes not be guesswork, as many might suppose.

Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., said that in a special recognition test, guesses turned out to be as accurate as, or more accurate than, when study participants thought they consciously remembered information.

"We may actually know more than we think we know in everyday situations, too," Paller said in a statement. "Unconscious memory may come into play, for example, in recognizing the face of a perpetrator of a crime or the correct answer on a test."

Paller and Joel L. Voss, now at the Beckman Institute, said during the first part of the memory test, study participants were shown a series of colorful kaleidoscope images that flashed on a computer screen. Half of the images were viewed with full attention as participants tried to memorize them.

While viewing each of the other images, the study participants were distracted. A short time later, they viewed pairs of similar kaleidoscope images in a recognition test.

"Remarkably, people were more accurate in selecting the old image when they had been distracted than when they had paid full attention," Paller said. "They also were more accurate when they claimed to be guessing than when they registered some familiarity for the image."

The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, showed that even when people weren't paying as much attention, their visual system was storing information quite well.

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