This is a fantastic question and one that I was eager to research.
First of all, so-called feminine intuition is not New Age or occult-based. It may have begun as an old-wives-tale or a superstition, but it has long since been supported by science.
For instance, a 2008 study published in the British Journal of Psychology defined intuition as what happens when the brain draws on past experiences and external cues to make a decision -- but it happens so fast that the reaction is at an unconscious level. It's what we call a "gut instinct."
Men have this capability too, but women are much better at it simply because of their very nature, which makes it easier for them to pick up on the subtle emotional messages being sent by others.
So where does it come from? As Lou Cozolino, Ph.D. writes in this article, "There is a great deal of incoming information and interpersonal processing taking place outside of conscious awareness in the neural networks that organize emotion and sensory and somatic information. This is how we come to know things without knowing we know them."
In other words, our brains are always at work gathering information that we may not realize until after the fact.
"Often, in retrospect, after something has gone wrong, we begin to become aware of all the indications that were drowned out or ignored within the stream of conscious processing," Dr. Cozolino writes. "These clues, only vaguely recognized and mostly unattended to at the time, gain meaning and clarity in the rearview mirror. They are appraisals of the world around us that we often don’t even realize that we’re making. Sometimes they manifest in the body as a stomach ache or muscle tension; other times there is simply an unidentified feeling about what you should or shouldn’t do. In the words of Jonas Salk, 'Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.'”
Because intuition happens in the brain and happens so fast, we tend to see it as nothing more than a sudden general feeling that something is right or wrong.
“People usually experience true intuition when they are under severe time pressure or in a situation of information overload or acute danger, where conscious analysis of the situation may be difficult or impossible,” says Professor Gerard Hodgkinson in this article.
He uses the example of a race car driver who felt an overwhelming desire to hit the brakes just before rounding a bend on the track where a huge accident had just taken place.
“The driver couldn’t explain why he felt he should stop, but the urge was much stronger than his desire to win the race,” explains Professor Hodgkinson. “The driver underwent forensic analysis by psychologists afterwards, where he was shown a video to mentally relive the event. In hindsight he realized that the crowd, which would have normally been cheering him on, wasn’t looking at him coming up to the bend but was looking the other way in a static, frozen way. That was the cue. He didn’t consciously process this, but he knew something was wrong and stopped in time.”
All intuitive experiences are based on the instantaneous evaluation of such internal and external cues, Professor Hodgkinson believes, but he won't speculate on whether intuitive decisions are necessarily the right ones.
“Humans clearly need both conscious and non-conscious thought processes, but it’s likely that neither is intrinsically ‘better’ than the other,” he says.
In the case of RS, she is concerned about getting her intuition wrong, but she needn't worry. It's only logical that the kind of strong emotions, such as fear, desire or panic, that can overcome a mother who is concerned about the safety of her child can be mistaken for intuition when it really isn't. These fears may have been prompted by her imagination, mood, physical condition, or even a spirit of oppression.
The bottom line is that it's never a bad idea to listen to that inner voice, particularly when one is sensing danger. If you listen to it and you are wrong, you have lost nothing. But if you ignore it and are proven right, you will forever regret not listening to it.
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