What Neuroscience Can Tell about Intuitive Processes in the Context of Perceptual Discovery

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 4.69). 01/2007; 18(12):2077-87. DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.12.2077
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT 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.

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Available from: Kirsten G. Volz, Aug 14, 2015
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    • "Half of them depicted an object, such as a camel or a baby (see Fig. 1), resulting in Gestalt-containing images. The other half of the images was derived from the dots of the Gestalt-containing images but was randomly rearranged (details see Topolinski & Strack, 2009b, Experiment 10), resulting in Gestalt-lacking images (this procedure is similar to Bolte & Goschke, 2008, and Volz & von Cramon, 2006). Due to the use of different programs "
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    • "In accordance with earlier research on visual coherence judgments (Luu et al., 2010; Volz & von Cramon, 2006), left OFC activation in the present study was significantly higher for stimuli judged as coherent than for those judged as incoherent. This was shown in a contrast calculated over all vertices on source level, revealing a cluster of 75 adjacent vertices in the left OFC (see Fig. 3). "
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    • "The human PFC is known to subserve the mental blackboard for high-level cognition such as cognitive control, working memory and decision-making but the extent to which this is reliant on conscious awareness of the critical information has remained elusive. For example, the aPFC has been associated with explicit maintenance and retrieval of concurrent task goals (Koechlin and Hyafil, 2007), top-down conscious visual perception (Bar et al., 2006), perceptual decision making based on a sense of intuition or gist (Volz and von Cramon, 2006), decision making under uncertainty (Hsu et al., 2005) and metacognitive processes that evaluate the subjective confidence of perceptual decisions (Fleming et al., 2010). However, PFC engagement here did not reflect metacognitive processing or levels of decision confidence/uncertainty because PFC signals were strictly associated with memory discrimination accuracy on non-conscious trials. "
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