Intuition from the womb

If you have ever seen the British television series “Yes, Minister” you will know that Sir Humphrey Appleby is a civil servant, head of the Department of Administrative Affairs and that he is principle advisor to the politician and Minister, the honourable Jim Hacker. Sir Humphrey’s real mission of course is to stymie Hacker’s attempts to implement government policy which is a premise that sustained itself for four series (22 episodes) and gave rise to “Yes, Prime Minister” that continued for a further three series (16 more episodes). In one episode Sir Humphrey is arguing a point with another female politician and when she makes a telling argument he smiles indulgently, raises one eyebrow and murmurs, “I fear, dear lady, we are now in the realm of female intuition.” That comment, although delivered by a fictional character, carries a load of meanings. It says at once that intuition carries no weight in the face of rational thought and that it is an entirely female way of thinking. New research however, suggests Sir Humphrey’s attitude was flawed.

You would know the phrase “female intuition” even if you don’t believe in the concept because it is a widely used. It implies that women are more disposed to processing information automatically and unconsciously, or intuitively. Men are assumed to be more inclined to “reflexive” thought involving conscious analysis. These researchers noted that exposure to testosterone, and other hormones, in the womb has been linked to behaviour traits so they wondered this might be part of the picture with intuition as well.

An established way to gauge testosterone exposure in the womb is to measure the second-to-fourth finger ration which means dividing the length of the forefinger by the length of the ring finger on the same hand. The lower the ratio (that is, the longer the ring finger is in relation to the forefinger) then the greater the testosterone exposure while in the womb.

Men naturally have a lower second-to-fourth finger ration but both men and women are exposed to testosterone in the womb and there is variation within genders.

Having established the testosterone exposure of their subjects the researchers then gave them tests to measure their tendency and capacity to override an intuitive response with a reflective one. These tests require that, in order to get the right answer, you need to stop and reflect and realise that the first answer to pop into your head was incorrect.

The results show that women do tend toward more intuitive thought while men tend toward reflexive thought. However, it also emerged that women with a more “masculine” finger ratio, and therefore greater testosterone exposure, did equivalent to men on the test. It appears then that preferred patterns of thought are not so much gender based as influenced by testosterone exposure prenatally.

Additionally, none of this is to say that intuitive is lesser or greater than reflexive thought. The researchers themselves say that sometimes acting on intuition rather than taking time to stop and think is the best course. In general, a blend of the two ways of thinking is going to be most productive. After all, most of the great advances in understanding have come from intuitive leaps based on prior analytical reflection.

So love your intuitive and your analysis and remember that your fingers, rather than your gender, can point to your intuitive leanings which could be a handy bit of information.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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