The importance of trusting your feelings to navigate life’s challenges may bring to mind the teachings of Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars.” But in fact, a new study suggests a higher trust in feelings may result in more accurate predictions about a variety of future events.
In the research, the researchers conducted a series of eight studies in which their participants were asked to predict various future outcomes.
Participants were asked to predict the U.S. Democratic presidential nominee, the box-office success of different movies, the winner of “American Idol,” movements of the Dow Jones Index, the winner of a college football championship game, and even the weather.
Despite the range of events and prediction horizons (in terms of when the future outcome would be determined), the results across all studies consistently revealed that people with higher trust in their feelings were more likely to correctly predict the final outcome than those with lower trust in their feelings.
The researchers call this phenomenon the emotional oracle effect. The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
During the investigation, researchers used two different methods to manipulate or measure how much individuals relied on their feelings to make their predictions.
In some studies, the researchers used an increasingly standard trust-in-feelings manipulation. In other studies, the researchers simply measured how much participants typically relied on their feelings in general when making predictions.
Regardless of the method used, participants who trusted their feelings in general or were induced to trust their feelings experimentally were more accurate in their predictions compared to participants with lower trust in their in their feelings and participants in a control group.
In one study, involving the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama contest for the presidential nomination, high-trust-in-feelings respondents predicted correctly for Obama about 72 percent of the time compared with low-trust respondents, who predicted for Obama about 64 percent of the time – a striking result given that major polls reflected a very tight race between Clinton and Obama at that time.
For the winner of “American Idol,” the difference was 41 percent for high-trust-in-feelings respondents compared to 24 percent for low-trust respondents.
In another study, participants were even asked to predict future levels of the Dow Jones stock market index. Those who trusted their feelings were 25 percent more accurate than those who trusted their feelings less.
Researchers believe the “privileged window” hypothesis explains the relationship.
Researcher Michel Pham, Ph.D., said, “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.
“It is this cumulative knowledge, which our feelings summarize for us, that allows us make better predictions. In a sense, our feelings give us access to a privileged window of knowledge and information – a window that a more analytical form of reasoning blocks us from.”
Nevertheless, researchers caution that some amount of relevant knowledge appears to be required to more accurately forecast the future.
For example, in one study participants were asked to predict the weather. While participants who trusted their feelings were again better able to predict the weather, they were only able to do so for the weather in their own zip codes, not for the weather in Beijing or Melbourne.
Leonard Lee, Ph.d., said this is because “…they don’t possess a knowledge base that would help them to make those predictions.”
In another example, only participants who had some background knowledge about the current football season benefited from trust in feelings in predicting the winner of the national college football BCS game.
Thus, as in Obi-Wan’s instructions to Luke, managing the future need not be unfathomable if we simply learn to trust our feelings — and have a proper knowledge base.
Source: Columbia University