Psychology Round-Up

The Six Most Interesting Psychology Papers of 2015

See why Maria Konnikova chose these six papers to feature in The New Yorker:

(1) “Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science,” from Science
(2) “What Works in Inpatient Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation?,” from Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
(3) “Best Friends and Better Coping: Facilitating Psychological Resilience Through Boys’ and Girls’ Closest Friendships,” from British Journal of Psychology
(4) “Nonpharmacological Treatments of Insomnia for Long-Term Painful Conditions,” from Sleep
(5) “A Mechanistic Link Between Olfaction and Autism Spectrum Disorder,” in Current Biology
(6) “Fibroblast Growth Factor 9 Is a Novel Modulator of Negative Affect,” from PNAS

Don’t let the titles scare you. Konnikova summarizes the importance of this research, which covers topics such as insomnia, traumatic brain injury, and depression.

Being happy won’t make you live longer, study finds

I’ve seen a lot of advice articles that maintain making yourself happy will help you live longer. But here’s a report on a new study that concludes ““happiness and related measures of well-being do not appear to have any direct effect on mortality.”

The brain’s miracle superpowers of self-improvement

Here’s a comprehensive look at the controversial concept of “neuroplasticity, which is what we call the brain’s ability to change itself in response to things that happen in our environment.”

Neuroplasticity has its evangelists, such as psychologist Ian Robertson:

neuroplasticity really is a remarkable thing. “What we do know is that almost everything we do, all our behaviour, thoughts and emotions, physically change our brains in a way that is underpinned by changes in brain chemistry or function,” says Robertson. “Neuroplasticity is a constant feature of the very essence of human behaviour.” This understanding of the brain’s power, he says, opens up new techniques for treating a potentially spectacular array of illnesses. “There’s virtually no disease or injury, I believe, where the potential doesn’t exist for very intelligent application of stimulation to the brain via behaviour, possibly combined with other stimulation.”

Yet other scientists warn that the results of neuroplasticity therapy may be less dramatic than they are often portrayed as:

It’s perhaps understandable why crazy levels of hope are raised when people read tales of apparently miraculous recovery from brain injury that feature people seeing again, hearing again, walking again and so on. These dramatic accounts can make it sound as if anything is possible. But what’s usually being described, in these instances, is a very specific form of neuroplasticity – functional reorganisation – which can happen only in certain circumstances. “The limits are partly architectural,” says Greg Downey. “Certain parts of the brain are better at doing certain kinds of thing, and part of that comes simply from where they are.”

Still, neuroplasticity has produced results in many areas for which there previously were only limited options. Read this article to learn how neuroplasticity works and what it can and cannot accomplish.

False Memories: How false memories are created and can affect our ability to recall events

Your memories of past events may not be as accurate as you think it is. This article discusses “how false memories are created, the impact of questioning, language and other factors on our recall and the real life consequences of false memories.”

3 Blogs I’ve Loved Recently

Thanks to a recent WordPress Daily Prompt for today’s post:

Give some love to three blog posts you’ve read and loved in the past week, and tell us why they’re worth reading.



This post was my introduction to AbbieLu’s site Cafe Book Bean. In this post she defines what a saga is, then lists some of her favorite ones:

  • Gone with the Wind
  • Far and Away
  • East of Eden
  • The Thorn Birds

This post made me want to turn to my TBR shelves and grab a huge book to sink into. (Alas, I’ll have to wait until after January 1st to so indulge myself.) Overall, I love AbbieLu’s enthusiasm about books.

(2) #48: The Kings of Crime – II: Jim Thompson, the King of Clubs 

On The Invisible Event, an unnamed Invisible Blogger writes about classic crime fiction.

This post particularly attracted me because one of the many books on my TBR shelves is Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. That book, and hence this blog post as well, are good fits for my interest in Literature & Psychology.


I loved finding this blog post by Marilyn Armstrong because it, too, relates to Literature & Psychology. Like Marilyn, I find the concept of time travel fascinating, and I did not know about the book she discusses here, Robert A. Heinlein’s All You Zombies.

I hope I’ll be able to find a copy of this book!

Psychology Round-Up

The Changing Vocabulary of Mental Illness

Like our understanding of mental health, the vocabulary used to describe it is fluid, with certain terms falling in and out of favor as we discover new ways to diagnose, treat, and think about the various conditions that can arise in the human mind.

Cari Romm discusses a new report from research firm Fractl on how the usage of words describing mental health have changed over the last 200 years, from the catch-all madness to neurosis, which has evolved from its singular form to the now more prevalent plural neuroses.

New York City finds one in five adults has mental health problems

Reuters looks at a recent report about the mental health of residents of New York City:

At least one in five adult New Yorkers suffer from depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or other psychological disorders every year, according to a report released on Thursday ahead of Mayor Bill de Blaiso’s new mental-health initiative.

According to the report, poor and minority residents are disproportionately affected by mental illnesses and are more likely than white residents to be misdiagnosed or untreated. The number of residents experiencing disorders such as depression has remained about the same in recent years, while mental health issues from drug and alcohol abuse have risen.

One of the goals of the new NYC mental health initiative, known as Thrive, is to better track the mental health of both adults and children.

Take a hike for health: small doses of the outdoors make a big difference

Scientists are beginning to talk about nature deprivation as a mental health issue. Recent research suggests that as little as 10 minutes of exposure to nature two to three times a week produces “mental-restoration benefits.”

The research was conducted by MaryCarol Hunter, a professor at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Marc Berman of the University of Chicago for the TKF Foundation, which has awarded grants for studying the benefits of incorporating green spaces in urban areas.

forest pathHunter’s study had participants “immerse themselves in nature at least 2½ times a week for a minimum 10 minutes,” then answer questions about their mental well-being. Participants reported significantly less stress, improved ability to focus, and increased satisfaction with their mood and energy levels.

Berman’s study had participants take a 2.5-mile walk through either an arboretum or a dense urban environment. They were then given memory tests to measure their ability toconcentrate. Participants who had walked through the arboretum showed 20% improvement in working memory over those who had walked through the city. Another study found similar results using photos of urban or nature scenes rather than the walks.

Both researchers’ work raises several further areas that must be studied, such as how senses other than sight contribute of health benefits and what specific features of nature produce benefits.

Psychology Round-Up

At 81, Feminist Gloria Steinem Finds Herself Free Of The ’Demands Of Gender’

In this recent interview with NPR, Gloria Steinem discusses her life and her new memoir, My Life on the Road.

See what she has to say on these topics:

  • becoming pregnant at age 22, before abortion was legal, and why she didn’t talk about her abortion until years later
  • the morality of abortion
  • the most pressing issues facing women today
  • creating a home for herself after living much of her life on the road

Rewriting Your Nightmares

According to this article, as many as 25% of adults have at least one nightmare a month. There’s a new medical treatment, imagery rehearsal therapy, that works for many people who have chronic nightmares.

Developed by Dr. Barry Krakow at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, imagery rehearsal therapy focuses on rewriting a nightmare script. During the day, patients imagine a better version of the dream. For example, one woman who often had nightmares about sharks rehearsed the dream by imagining dolphins instead of sharks. After she imagined the dream with dolphins several times during the day, during sleep the sharks also morphed into dolphins.

The article reports that image rehearsal therapy is generally brief, requiring only two or three sessions. People who have only occasional nightmares may be able to perform the therapy successfully on their own, but those “who are developing insomnia or a fear of sleeping” should seek professional help to prevent the problem from becoming more severe.

The article ends with links to some related resources.

How Stress Makes You Sick

This article by Olga Khazan for The Atlantic contains a video of a TED talk by Sharon Bergquist, professor of medicine at Emory University, explaining how worry affects the body.

In some circumstances stress is a good thing: It’s responsible for the fight-or-flight mechanism that can help us avoid danger. But constant stress, for example at work or when worrying about paying the bills, can cause serious health consequences:

To mitigate some of these health consequences, Bergquist recommends viewing your stressors “as challenges you can control and master.”

The Coloring Craze: Adult Coloring Books, 2015

Publishers Weekly reports on adult coloring books, which have been selling well in both the United States and Canada during 2015. These books are generally marketed to help adults relieve stress.

When Publishers Weekly put out a call for information about these items, they received more than 150 titles. Some of those books are named here, both in the body of the article and in a table at the end.

When the Empath Met the Narcissist

5 Signs Someone Is Manipulating You

About 10 years ago I had to break off a friendship when I finally realized how badly A. was manipulating me. I wish I had then known about these five signs to watch for:

(1) Knowing they’ve manipulated others.

This wouldn’t have helped me, at least not initially, with A. because I didn’t know about her past relationships with other people. But I did begin to wonder when I found out that she had been divorced three times.

(2) They’re the fast moving fast talking types.

A. did seem eager to pull me into a close relationship. I met her not long after my two closest friends had died, when I was looking to cultivate new friendships.

(3) They get impatient fast.

This is the one that should have set my alarm bells ringing. Whenever A. and I were together, we talked about her issues and did what she wanted to do. As long as I commiserated with her, everything was fine. But if I broached some other subject or started to talk about something that was happening my life, she’d quickly dismiss me with a cutting remark or her need to depart.

(4) They make you into the bad guy.

And if #3 didn’t alert me, this one certainly should have. Once I realized how self-centered A. was, I began trying to tell her how her actions hurt me. Her response: “Anything I do is neutral. It’s up to you to decide how you want to interpret it. So if you’re hurt, that’s your problem, not mine.”

(5) They play to your feelings.

This was the one that finally made me realize nothing was ever going to change with A. Once she learned the things that hurt, she routinely did them over and over again. And at times when one of her adult children had pushed her buttons, she’d turn on me viciously. She seemed to think that making me feel bad would make her feel better.

It took me a long time to figure out that my relationship with A. had to end because I first needed to come to two realizations:

  1. I am an empath.
  2. A. is a narcissist.

Although I usually try not to label people, in this case understanding and applying these two labels was exactly what I needed to do.

An empath is someone who feels other peoples’ emotions along with them. The empath doesn’t merely understand another person’s emotions but actually shares in experiencing them. We’re the ones who cry at sad movies and experience our friends’ grief, sadness, and joy.

A narcissist is in many ways the opposite of an empath. As psychiatry professor Thomas G. Plante explains:

You know you are around a narcissistic when someone brings all conversations back to them and their stories and interests. They really can’t listen for more than a mere moment to others (unless the topic is about them). Sure, they’ll ask about you or listen to your story or needs for just a minute but then they’ll get that glazed over or distracted look pretty fast or change the topic to something about them. They can’t put themselves in the shoes of others and can’t experience empathy in a sincere manner.

The following article explains why meetings between these two types can be so explosive.

The Toxic Attraction Between an Empath & a Narcissist.

Like me, Alex Myles realized she was an empath after she got involved in a “highly destructive relationship with a narcissist”:

The narcissist’s agenda is one of manipulation, it is imperative they are in a position whereby they can rise above others and be in control. The empath’s agenda is to love, heal and care. There is no balance and it is extremely unlikely there ever will be one. The more love and care an empath offers, the more powerful and in control a narcissist will become.

In my case, I kept trying to explain to A. how certain of her actions hurt me. The first few times she apologized, but the apology was always qualified: “I’m sorry if I hurt you” rather than “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” But before long she would treat me the same way and I’d be deeply hurt all over again.

I kept wondering why A. didn’t learn from what I explained to her. This is one of the characteristics of narcissists: They can’t learn from their mistakes because they don’t believe they make mistakes. Everything is always all the other person’s fault.

I finally realized that A.’s behavior would never change and that I had two choices: (1) to remain in the friendship and continue to be hurt frequently or (2) to exert my own right to be respected. In the end, I decided that I had to either change this relationship or break free of it. After one particularly hurtful episode, I told her that we had to talk about how she had treated me. Her reply was that she didn’t want to do that.

For a while she continued to email me, acting as if nothing had happened. I told her a couple of times that she should let me know when she was ready to talk about how she had treated me. She tried for a while longer to act as if nothing had happened, and eventually I stopped responding to those overtures. It has now been almost 10 years since our last communication.

Yes, A. treated me badly, but I continued to allow myself to be treated badly for much longer than I should have. I have since realized that empaths must learn to exert themselves by setting their own boundaries. A. was never going to stop abusing me as long as I let myself be abused. In the end, I had to require respect from her in order to maintain my own self-respect.

At first I thought I’d miss our friendship. However, I soon realized that I didn’t miss the emotional roller-coaster ride of interacting with someone whose approach to self-esteem was to demolish my self-esteem. In the end, this empath had to give herself permission to pursue self-protection.

Psychology Round-Up

Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?

In time for Halloween, Elizabeth Blair looks at why evil in folklore and fairy tales is so often represented by an old woman. Maria Tatar, who teaches a course on folklore and mythology at Harvard, says “old women villains are especially scary because, historically, the most powerful person in a child’s life was the mother.”

Here’s another possible explanation:

Veronique Tadjo, a writer who grew up in the Ivory Coast, thinks there’s a fear of female power in general. She says a common figure in African folk tales is the old witch who destroys people’s souls.

See what Baba Yaga, a monstrous female figure of Russian folklore, and Yama Uba, an old woman from Japanese folklore, have in common with the old lady in Hansel and Gretel and the queen who poisons Snow White: “Elderly women in folk tales often use their knowledge and experience of the world to guide the troubled protagonist.” Blair concludes:

old women in fairy tales and folklore practically keep civilization together. They judge, reward, harm and heal; and they’re often the most intriguing characters in the story.

Why We Favorite Tweets, According To Science

How often do you mark someone’s tweet as a favorite? And why?

Thanks to a study published by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, this year we now have what amounts to an official taxonomy of faving behaviors. Conducted by Florian Meier and David Elsweiler from the University of Regensburg, Germany and Max L. Wilson from the University of Nottingham after extensive surveys with 606 Twitter users (many long-term users), the study sought to classify the myriad of individual reasons for favoriting a tweet in order to “enhance our understanding of what people want to do with Twitter.”

Read the explanations of what the study found out about why people mark certain tweets as favorites to see if they agree with your own practice.

And what did the study conclude? “findings highlight that the favoriting feature is currently being over-utilized for a range of motivations, whilst under-supporting many of them.”

Can We End the Meditation Madness?

I used to reject the notion of meditating out of hand because it seemed too religious to me. But when I discovered Dr. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response, I was happy to adopt it to reduce my blood pressure. Since I performed it lying on my back in bed at night, I found that it also helped me fall asleep instead of lying awake with my mind whirring. (Placebo or not, whatever works…)

It’s always good to feel validated, so I was gratified to come across this article in the New York Times recently. Adam Grant notes “Meditation is exploding in popularity,” particularly in association with mindfulness. To discover why meditation is so popular he consulted meditation teachers, researchers, and practitioners. His conclusion: “Every benefit of the practice can be gained through other activities.” He cites a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that drew a similar conclusion:

“We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (i.e., drugs, exercise and other behavioral therapies).”

I’m gratified to find validation for what I discovered through my own research several years ago: with the relaxation response, I can achieve the benefits of meditating without having to meditate. As Grant says:

Evangelists, it’s time to stop judging. The next time you meet people who choose not to meditate, take a deep breath and let us relax in peace.

Are You Aware of Your Self-Defeating Habits?

Daniel Goleman, author of the seminal book Emotional Intelligence, offers advice and recognizing and overcoming one’s self-defeating habits, those “invisible emotional patterns” that are “habitual ways we react that get triggered over and over.” Such self-defeating habits “often stem from our learning early in life, and are so deeply ingrained that we repeat them over and over, despite the sometimes obvious ways in which they do not work.”

Read about Goleman’s five-step process for recognizing your own trigger sources:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the self-defeating habit.
  2. Be mindful.
  3. Remember the alternatives.
  4. Choose something better.
  5. Do this at every naturally occurring opportunity.

Recognizing your triggers is the necessary first part of cultivating more useful responses. If necessary, Goleman adds, a coach or therapist can help you develop new, more positive, habits of response.

How to Turn a Bad Day Around

Since this article is in the Harvard Business Review, it’s aimed at improving work productivity. However, the advice here can help anyone turn a bad day around for any purpose.

Amy Gallo begins the article with the assertion that happiness is a choice, according to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. Gallo offers some ideas for recognizing the positive aspects of life even in the face of negative occurrences:

  • pinpoint the problem
  • take a moment to be grateful
  • take action
  • change your routine
  • reset realistic expectations
  • learn from your bad days to prevent future ones

In addition, she has some specific suggestions for how to achieve these goals. She concludes with two case studies that put these general ideas into specific contexts to illustrate how the principles work.

Remember: You can’t keep bad things from happening, but you can improve the way you respond to them.

Psychology Round-Up

How The Impact Bias Affects Your Expectations Of Happiness

It seems to make sense that an extreme experience, such as a catastrophic injury, would affect our future level of happiness. But, writes James Clear, the truth is much more counter-intuitive. Research has shown that six months after a traumatic event, people’s happiness levels are about the same as they were before the event.

The inaccuracy of our expectations about how major experiences will affect us is called the impact bias:

Researchers refer to this as the “impact bias” because we tend to overestimate the length or intensity of happiness that major events will create. The impact bias is one example of affective forecasting, which is a social psychology phenomenon that refers to our generally terrible ability as humans to predict our future emotional states.

Moreover, the impact bias applies to positive experiences, such as winning the lottery, as well as to negative ones.

Read why Clear draws the following two conclusions from a study of the impact bias:

  • First, we have a tendency to focus on the thing that changes and forget about the things that don’t change
  • Second, a challenge is an impediment to a particular thing, not to you as a person

The Benefits of Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty

Back in 1971, when my husband and I left our families in New England for St. Louis, where he would attend school and I would start my first teaching job, my mother-in-law hosted a “happy/sad party.” She was happy that we were going to start our new life together, but sad that we were going so far away.

Even though we naturally seek clarity, it’s important to understand that people, including ourselves, can feel contradictory emotions about a single situation or event. In his article for The Atlantic, Julie Beck interviews Jamie Holmes, author of Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, about “the many ways that uncertainty shapes people’s behavior, and what gets lost when people seek clarity above all else.”

Says Holmes:

I think the reason why ambivalence is just downplayed in general, is because we don’t like ambiguity. We don’t like to think of intentions as fluid or ambivalent and I think they are, far more often than we acknowledge.

For True Freedom, Learn to Deal With Uncertainty

In the New York Times, financial planner Carl Richards discusses the uncertainty of a life in which our fortunes fluctuate in relation to the economic conditions of a particular time. He bought a house that appreciated quickly in value, then borrowed against the equity in the house to start a business. But when the economy tanked, his house became worth less than he had paid for it and his business, closely tied to the local economy, floundered as well. But a couple of years later, his life changed again: “He now has superpositive net worth. His relationships are better than ever.”

Richards writes that he has asked himself many times what he did wrong to deserve the bad experience and what he did right to deserve the the better experience. But deserve, he says, is loaded language. It’s a myth that we “deserve” any specific outcome:

For years, many of us have believed this myth. In reality, life is irreducibly uncertain. That doesn’t make us more or less successful or more or less happy. The true joy in life, the real peace, comes when we let go of the idea that we deserve a predetermined happy ending.

Whatever the goal, we can learn to trust ourselves and deal with the reality of uncertainty. And for me that’s become the definition of true freedom.

How I Learned to Trust My Intuition

I am a Virgo. The primary characteristic of Virgos is their love of logic, their reliance on reasoned, rational thought. Yet all my life I have had occasional flashes of insight or foreboding that come seemingly from nowhere. It took me a long time to learn to call these flashes intuition and to trust them for what they are—insight from outside the rational realm.

I have had several intuitive experiences during my lifetime, but by far the most salient one occurred during the summer when my daughter was 3½ years old. She was enrolled in a preschool day camp that summer that was going on a field trip to the city zoo. Several high school and college student volunteers, along with some parents, were going to accompany the children; the ratio of adults to children was 1:2. Since I was not required to go along to the zoo, I was looking forward to having a few free hours when I could go grocery shopping and run errands such as going to the bank and the post office unencumbered by a small child. The morning of the field trip, as I was packing my daughter’s lunch and getting ready to drive her to camp, I had a very strong feeling that I should forget about my errands and go to the zoo. The feeling even grew stronger as we drove toward camp. When we got there and I asked the teacher if she had enough adults going on the trip, she said that she did and that I did not have to go. So I acted against my intuition and went grocery shopping while my child went to the zoo. 

I should emphasize here that the feeling I had that morning was not guilt about shirking my maternal duty. It was definitely a warning, a persistent feeling of anxiety that I have come to know as “generalized dread,” the premonition of a premonition. I did not have any particular vision of something bad happening (i.e., this was not a specific foretelling of the future), but the feeling was very strong.

I arrived back to the camp just before the bus returned. As the bus pulled in and the door opened, I felt a sudden physical pain in my stomach. I watched everyone getting off the bus, but my daughter did not appear. When the bus was empty, I climbed on board and walked up the center aisle checking all the seats to see if she might have fallen asleep. When I still didn’t see her, I went to the front of the bus, got down on my hands and knees, and looked under the seats on both sides of the aisle. I had known, though, from the minute I climbed up the bus steps that I was not going to find her on or under the seats. With a sense of inevitability I acknowledged that my daughter had been left behind at the zoo.∗

The feeling that struck me the morning of the zoo field trip was intuition. When I was working on my doctorate in psychology I had the opportunity to study intuition in the context of critical thinking, part of the study of how we know what we know. Paul and Binker (1992, p. 8) define intuition as “[t]he direct knowing or learning of something without the conscious use of reasoning.” Levy (1997, p. 241) defines intuition as “1. Direct or immediate knowledge or insight, without intentional effort, rational thought, or conscious judgment. 2. Perception by means of the unconscious; a strong premonition or hunch in the absence of objective empirical evidence.” The distinguishing characteristic of intuition is that it arrives without conscious effort or thought on our part; it is non-rational.

Whatever the source of intuition, its non-rational nature means that some proponents of critical thinking disallow its validity. Halpern (1998, p. 450) implies this when she says, “when the results of a scientific study of day care are pitted against intuition or the observations of a single individual, the general public tends to find these two sources of information equally compelling.” With the phrase “observations of a single individual” Halpern is referring to the “person who” fallacy, an invalid form of argument that goes like this: “Who says smoking causes lung cancer? I knew a man who has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years, and he doesn’t have lung cancer.” By linking intuition with this form of false reasoning, Halpern is dismissing intuition as equally false.

Other proponents of critical thinking are a bit less strident about the value of intuition. Paul and Binker (1992, p. 8), for example, caution that “[a] critical thinker does not blindly accept that what he or she thinks or believes but cannot account for is necessarily true…. Critical thinkers may follow their inner sense that something is so, but only with a healthy sense of intellectual humility.” Levy (1997, p. 110), in a footnote, offers a muddy distinction between intuition and critical thought: “When you have an intuitive hunch, remember that although the intuition is always real, it may or may not be right.” (His lack of clarity in defining the terms of this distinction may itself be seen as a flaw in critical thinking.)

These last two quotations point up the problem of considering intuition within the framework of critical thinking. Paul and Binker, and Levy all apparently want to allow intuition a place at the critical thinking table but cannot adequately overcome the obstacle posed by trying to incorporate a non-rational way of knowing into a concept defined by its adherence to reason. 

But although critical thinking focuses on the use of logic and reason to construct a valid argument, there is another part to the definition of this construct: metacognition. That is, critical thinking also involves metathinking, or thinking about thinking (Halpern, 1998; Levy, 1997; Paul, 1990). One component of critical thinking is the ability to analyze an issue and determine which critical thinking elements are most appropriate for it. (Deciding which brand of toothpaste to buy does not require the same expenditure of critical thinking energy as does the decision about whether to have an abortion.) In this sense, then, we can incorporate intuition into the critical thinking process by recognizing that intuition may be appropriate in some situations but not in others.

We are still stuck, though, with trying to explain when intuition may be an appropriate critical thinking tool and when it may not be. This distinction is hard to make because of the nature of intuition: Although we may be able to define what intuition is, it is impossible to say where it comes from. One possible explanation for intuitive insight is that our unconscious mind picks up on and processes clues from the environment that we do not consciously register. A woman walking alone to her car in a deserted parking lot late at night will consciously look for potential danger. But even if she doesn’t notice anything specifically threatening, her senses may unconsciously pick up unnoticed stimuli and warn her to flee. This may also be what is happening when we come in contact with a person who “gives us the creeps,” though we cannot explicitly say why. But this explanation cannot account for my intuition on the morning of my daughter’s trip to the zoo, as there was no concrete person or situation present for my unconscious mind to react to.

Intuition itself often lets me know in which situations it is appropriate. I do not have intuitive insight about every decision—even every major decision—I must make on a daily basis. Moreover, I cannot summon intuition; it arrives on its own, unbidden (or at least not consciously bidden). Over the years I have noticed that my intuition only operates for very important matters, and because it appears only infrequently, I pay attention to it when it does arrive. In effect, then, I have learned not only to trust what my intuition tells me, but also to trust it to appear at appropriate times.

I have had a few other “gut feelings” in my life—though none as dramatic as the one related here. But every time I have let my head overrule my gut, I have regretted it. I have finally learned that I should trust my intuition—albeit with a healthy sense of intellectual humility. 


Halpern, D. F. (1998). Teaching critical thinking for transfer across domains: Dispositions, skills, structure training, and metacognitive monitoring. American Psychologist, 53, 449-455.

Levy, D. A. (1997). Tools of critical thinking: Metathoughts for psychology. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Paul, R. W. (1990). Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique. Rohnert Park, CA: Sonoma State University, pp. 44-67.

Paul, R. W., & Binker, A. J. A. . (1992). Glossary: An educator’s guide to critical thinking terms and concepts. Critical thinking handbook series. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique. Rohnert Park, CA: Sonoma State University, pp. 1-14.

*This story does have a happy ending. The zoo police had found my daughter wandering around the enclosed children’s zoo. They took her to their office and entertained her until I could drive there to pick her up.

© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown