Decision-making is a vital requirement in business and the pressure to make the right one can be enormous.

Some people make decisions based on gut instinct while others prefer a more logical approach.

Whichever you favour, understanding how intuition works can help you make more succinct and accurate determinations.

To help unpack the science behind decision-making, Leader spoke to Future Minds Lab Director Joel Pearson, who is a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of New South Wales.

“In 2016, Future Minds Lab published the first paper showing strong scientific evidence for something we like to call intuition,” he said.

“This discovery was the first of its kind. It showed scientific evidence intuition actually exists.

“Ultimately, we were able to show that intuition can positively affect the decision-making process by allowing people to make quicker, more confident decisions that are also accurate.”

To explain how intuition worked, Professor Pearson used the example of a diner trying a new restaurant.

“Think about someone who frequents seafood restaurants,” he said. “If this person visits a new seafood restaurant and something doesn’t feel quite right, this is usually because his brain is picking up on thousands of subtle signals.

“It might be because the restaurant is too warm, or maybe the tablecloth is old and faded. It could even be as simple as not liking how someone is dressed.”

Professor Pearson said these gut reactions could feed valuable information to the brain and influence the individual about whether or not to eat at that restaurant.

“While the person won’t be consciously thinking about all those cues, the way they act is determined by an intuitive feeling,” he said.

In business, Professor Pearson said there were some caveats to bear in mind if you wanted to go with your gut.

“It’s important to remember the accuracy of your instincts is closely linked to your level of experience,” he said. “People need to know they can rely on the signals influencing them.

“If you have deep expertise in a specific area, trusting your intuition for certain tasks can be more effective.

“However, if you are thrown into an area you have little knowledge in, then I would advise not relying on intuition.”

Professor Pearson said in those instances it was best to go back to basics and lean on logic to achieve a positive outcome.

According to Professor Pearson, the accuracy of a decision made instinctively would depend on the individual’s appetite for risk.

“Some people are more comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity whilst other people become anxious and stressed by it,” he said.

One’s emotional state was another marker to take note of, according to Professor Pearson.

“If your emotional system is working in its regular capacity, your intuition can be a good indicator for decision-making,” he said.

“However, if you have just had an argument with someone, or a loved one has recently died, then your intuition may be totally thrown off.”

In the final analysis, there is no black-and white answer to the process of making one’s mind up.

While trusting intuition can provide a sense of freedom from the quagmire of analysis paralysis, Professor Pearson encouraged leaders to take a nuanced approach and find a balance between instinct and logic.

“Having the ability to trust your instinct whilst not disregarding logic is probably the best approach,” he said.

“As long as there is nothing catastrophic happening in your life, and you are experienced in the field, then making a decision based on your intuition is valid and could be more beneficial in certain situations.”


Joel Pearson

  • Role Future Minds Lab Director.
  • Studied University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts; University of Sydney Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Cognitive Neuroscience.
  • Worked UNSW Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Penelope Thomas is a Journalist at Seven West and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.