Why Decision-Making Improves with Experience Credit: Dreamstime.com

The more of an expert someone is, the more they should trust their gut when making decisions, new research shows.

A person’s proficiency within a particular field has a positive impact on their ability to make accurate gut decisions, researchers at Rice University, George Mason University and Boston College have discovered.

"Although there's been a lot of research on the concept of intuition, there's relatively little research directly comparing whether it's best to 'trust your gut' versus taking time to make a decision," said Erick Dane, the study's lead author and assistant professor of management at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business.

The results were based on two separate experiments, one in which participants rated the difficulty of basketball shots and one in which participants judged whether designer handbags were real or fake.

In the first study, 184 undergraduate students watched video clips of basketball shots taken during two college basketball games and were given 10 seconds after each shot to rate its difficulty. The students were split into either an intuitive group, where they based decisions entirely on their first impression, or an analytical group, which based decisions on a list of factors they each developed to determine the shot's difficulty.

The researchers found that intuition was more effective for students who had played at least three years of high school basketball. Specifically, in the intuitive group, those considered experts performed better on the task, while there was no significant difference in the analytical group between those with high and low expertise.

In the second study, the researchers recruited 239 undergraduate students to make decisions about whether designer handbags were authentic or counterfeit. The participants, who again were split into intuitive and analytical groups, made their decisions by looking at — but not touching — 10 designer handbags.

The intuitive group was given five seconds to view each handbag and told to base their decisions entirely on their first impression, while the analysis group was told to ignore any gut instincts and base their decisions on careful analysis.

Once again, the researchers found that intuition was more effective for those with high expertise, which was considered to be those who owned at least three Coach and Louis Vuitton handbags.

Overall, the studies found that experts significantly outperformed novices when making their decisions intuitively, but not when making their decisions analytically.

Dane warns, however, that gut decision-making isn't best in all situations.

"Tasks that can be solved through predetermined steps, like math problems, are not as conducive to intuitive decision-making as less-structured tasks, which may include certain strategic or human resource management problems," Dane said.

The research was recently published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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