Become an Emotional Oracle

Use your feelings to predict future outcomes

From fortune-tellers to psychics, investment bankers to travelers packing, the ability to see the future is among the most prized—and sought-after—human gifts. A new analysis across eight studies involving more than 1,250 participants found that individuals who have higher trust in their feelings are better able to predict the outcome of a variety of future events than individuals who have lower trust in their feelings (click here to read the whole paper).

Ever heard someone say or thought to yourself, ‘my emotions clouded my judgment?’ Well, in contrast with the conventional view that feelings provide an inferior basis for judgments and decisions compared to analytical processes, new research shows that people who trusted their feelings in judgments and decisions consistently predicted these future events more accurately.  This phenomenon is called the emotional oracle effect.

For those of us who have learned to “trust your gut” or “listen to your instincts,” perhaps this news isn’t groundbreaking. But with science backing up years of experiential evidence, it’s worth reiterating the point.

How Do Emotions Help Predict the Future?

The paper authors suggest two hypotheses for how emotions help predict the future. According to the researchers, the first hypothesis, based on social attunement, postulates that predicted outcomes reflect aggregate consequences of human behavior. That is, to the extent that people tend to be quite similar in terms of their feelings—more so than in terms of logic and reason—encouraging forecasters to rely on their feelings may make them more attuned to the collective.

The other, preferred, theory is the privileged-window hypothesis. We encode a vast amount of information about our environment, most of it unconsciously. This continuously encoded information creates a cumulative implicit knowledge structure. Within this knowledge structure, subjective feelings function in part as meta-summaries of the vast amount of information that we encode consciously or unconsciously about the environment, thus providing a privileged window into all we tacitly know about our environment. A higher trust in feelings may facilitate access to this privileged window, thereby enhancing prediction accuracy over the reliance on logical inputs.

Use Your Emotions

Professor Michel Pham, one of the authors of the new paper, says more colloquially of the privileged window hypothesis: “When we rely on our feelings, what feels ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ summarizes all the knowledge and information that we have acquired consciously and unconsciously about the world around us.”

If you’re not already in tune with your “gut” or “instincts”, how can you entrust your future to your feelings? It’s pretty simple to start using your emotions: when you’re faced with a tough work or life decision, pay attention to how your body reacts. Key emotional indicators can be blushing or feeling flush, sweating, nausea, a burst of energy, or a sense of calm. When you are trying to listen to your emotions, keep in mind that you’ll be most accurate in situations where you have at least some prior experience, so start there. Being able to rely on your own emotions can make you happier!

Image:  Some rights reserved by commorancy

Category: Belief

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