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|Clinicians Digest May/June 2008 - Page 5|
Intuition may be making a comeback, buttressed now by harder science that suggests it's both quicker and more accurate than conscious cognition. Malcolm Gladwell's 2005 bestseller, Blink, extolling the wisdom and accuracy of split-second cognitions, helped repopularize intuition's integrity. But five years earlier, neuroscientists Antione Bechara, Antonio and Hannah Damasio, and Daniel Tranel had measured subjects' unconscious anxiety by monitoring electrical jumps in their skin conductivity. Subjects who bet on cards with decks that were stacked to ensure that they'd lose registered more anxiety just before betting than did subjects betting with a regular deck. This body anxiety occurred long before the losing players discovered the deck was stacked.
Psychologist Li Zhaoping of the University College London found by monitoring subjects' eye movements as they glanced at patterns on a video screen that they detected the subtle incongruence in a complicated pattern before they consciously knew they'd spotted it. In a further twist, Zhaoping found that, in certain visual tasks, conscious cognition actually induced inaccuracy: when given additional time to study the screen, subjects chose incorrectly.
Research on lie detection by psychologists such as Paul Ekman and Mark Frank supports Zhaoping's study. They found that microexpressions—tiny, almost imperceptible facial muscle movements—more accurately reveal lies than traditional lie detectors. It seems likely that people who are good at spotting lies unconsciously notice these microexpressions. When people say they can tell when someone is lying, or when therapists have an intuition about clients, they may be detecting discrete pattern anomalies unconsciously.