The Monster Study and Intuition

Going Wrong
Intuitive Learning - The Results
The Failure of Intuition
The Monster Study and Intuition
Success, Failure, and the Need to Succeed
Free Will and Randomness
Occam's Razor
PEMDAS - And Other Atrocities
Math Lessons
For Further Reading

What Happens When Intuition Is Thwarted?

In 1939, a study was conducted by a graduate student and her professor.  The study involved orphans at a nearby orphanage.

The point of this study was to see if a major factor at root of stuttering had been identified.  This woulde be shown by using this factor to induce stuttering in these orphans.

The study -- which was for all practical purposes covered up -- was successful, successful enough that when it was uncovered it came to be known as "The Monster Study."

Buried in the exposing article (Published Sunday, June 10, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News) was the following:
By drawing attention to their speech, [Dr. Wendell Johnson] reasoned, overzealous parents would make their children so self-conscious and nervous that the children would repeat more words. In time, the children would become so sensitized to their speech that they would not be able to talk without stuttering.
The methodology for proving this was simple.  The graduate assistant (Mary Tudor Jacobs) would single out one of the orphans chosen for this experiment, tell her that she was a potential stutterer and then caution her
"Take a breath before you say the word if you think you're going to stutter on it. Stop and start over if you stutter. Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Don't speak unless you can speak correctly. Watch your speech all the time. Do anything to keep from stuttering.''
That was enough.

Imagine what would happen if it were necessary to THINK how you tied your shoes in order to tie them.
Imagine what would happen if you had to analyze every word in every sentence you read or heard in order to comprehend its meaning.
Consideration blocks Intuition


Many years ago I was tutoring a student who was failing his Algebra Two class.
We were working together on an Algebra Two concept that required he multiply two numbers in order to complete a particular step.  The two numbers were 8 and 7.
We got to that step and I asked him "how much is 8 times 7?"
He hesitated a bare moment, then began speaking:  "fifty-si...."
I waited for him to finish.  He obviously knew the answer; where was this hesitation coming from?
Instead of completing the answer, he said "I don't know."
"What were you about to say?" I said.
He looked at me blankly.  "Nothing.  I wasn't saying anything."
"Yes, you were," I insisted.  I was confused.  My thought was that perhaps he was so afraid of being wrong that he didn't want to venture the answer that had sprung to his thoughts.  "You were right.  Just say it."
"I wasn't going to say anything."  He was beginning to get angry as well as confused.  (No one is comfortable being told his perception of reality is wrong.)
I dropped the issue then.
But I thought about it.
And I realized that the student never knew he had actually started to speak, started to offer an answer.
What his brain had done was act as though two seperate parts were responding.
One part had the answer and starting to proffer it.  The other part was trying to concentrate and was irritated by the noise from the first person, so it said "shut up, I'm trying to think."
And the first part shut up.
And the student never even recognized these two events.  All he knew was that he didn't know what 8 times 7 was.
Once I was alerted to this process I began to notice it more and more in my classroom.
And then I had my epiphany.  Every high school student knows somewhere inside his memory that 8 times 7 is 56.  Why?  Because every high school must have encountered that problem and seen the right answer - on a calculator if nowhere else - thousands of times.
So why wasn't the memory feeding the answer to these students?  Because it wasn't allowed to.
Concentration was blocking intuition.  When we "know" that 8 times 7 is 56, we are expressing an intuitive response.  When we try to come up with the answer to 8 times 7, we are concentrating and blocking the best source of that answer.
Why?  Because of fear of being wrong keeps us from letting go of what we consider the most reliable data source (concentration) and using this intangible thing we can't even perceive (intuition).
Concentration blocks intuition.


Whatever we do well, we do intuitively.
The measure of our mastery of any form of performing is our ability to do it without thinking about it.
The purpose of thinking is not performance in itself. Thinking may launch us on at actively ("I need to learn percentages in order to figure out interest payments on a loan"). Thinking is how we correct errors that result from inadequate intuitions ("why didn't my car stop in time?"). Thinking is what we engage in why performing intuitively - we drive our car to work (often without remembering a single event that occurred on the way) and we think about what we are going to do with our day while driving.
Is driving intuitively a bad thing? No.
Whatever we do well, we do intuitively.

Research has shown -- and is continuing to show -- that intuitive decision-making is frequently better than data-based decision making.
Even when there isn't time constraints.
Whatever we do well, we do intuitively.
It would not be too surprising that emegency-responders and the military have for some time been developing intuition-based decision making program.
But when investment firms and other businesses start to use gut-feelings for decision making, it should make us think.
Put simply, an individual can develop an intuitive skill that allows him to make faster and more reliable decisions than almost any committee relying on hard data.
Whatever we do well, we do intuitively.

Two books worth reading on this subject are
Neither of these authors suggest that any person's gut feelings are reliable to make any decision at any moment.
Their point is that individuals can and do develop intuitions -- either with formal training or on their on -- that can surpass the processes relying on pure data.
This is not mysticism.  There is no suggestion that our brains are picking up data from the universe.  The point is that our brains are constantly assimilating information and creating their own organizations and processes for interpreting data -- fast!
Nor is this a bald-faced assertion that man will always beat machine.  Given a sufficiently large machine with a fixed set of rules, it will probably always be true that machine can beat man.  But these are games, and much though we may like to believe that all issues in the universe can be expressed as games, that is simply not true.
The reason it is not true is because unlike the rules of the games of humankind, it is the universe that makes the rules it uses, not the human.  We might guess at these rules of the universe, but we can never be absolutely certain of the conclusions we draw when we make those guesses.
Nonetheless, if the rules of the universe can be expressed in terms of language, then it is very likely that our brain can intuit those rules -- even if we are unable to express them in words.

More to the point, much of what we want to do consists of many linked and concurrent skills be applied.  Riding a bicycle might be expressed as a skill single, but it is actually many, many skills being used at one time.
If we are unable to move a skill from our frontal lobes to the back of our skull -- from conscious direction to intuitive response -- then that skill will interfere with any larger activity of which it is a component.
I would be unable to express myself as well as I am were I to need to consciously translate my thoughts to words, those words through grammar, the resulting sentences into letters and punctuation, and the ensuing structure to symbols on the screen.
My skill in getting my ideas across relies on a wealth of intuitive skills, without which I would be -- in essence -- doomed.

Those interested in the topic of self-defeating fear and performance-based anxiety should direct their attention to such topics as stage-fright, math phobia, test phobia, sexual dysfunction in males and females, anger mismanagement.
The need to succeed at what is essentially an intuitive-dependent activity results in a mental concentration that actually prevents the successful intuitive response.