On female intuition

woman_eye.jpgA study conducted at the Edinburgh Science Festival has suggested that female intuition may be a myth, although this is contrary to speculation in a landmark paper in cognitive neuroscience.

Psychologist Matthew Lieberman published a paper in 2000, entited “Intuition: a social cognitive neuroscience approach”, and discussed a possible biological basis for female intuition:

A review on intuition would be incomplete without reference to women’s intuition, the colloquial notion that women have a sixth sense or a more able intuition faculty than men. Like intuition itself, women’s intuition is often shrugged off as an urban myth. No strong antedote is offered here, but there are some interesting leads that fit within the scope of this article.

There is strong and consistent evidence that women are better encoders and decoders of nonverbal communication (Hall, 1984), and this evidence has frequently been cited as possible evidence of women’s intuition (Graham & Ickes, 1997). Additionally, the hormone estrogen, present in greater quantities in women than men, directly affects the amount of DA [dopamine] released into the striatum (Becker, 1990; McDermott, Liu, & Dluzen, 1994; Mermelstein & Becker, 1995; Van Hartesveldt & Joyce, 1986).

Greater DA release into the striatum in conjunction with reward should lead to the development of stronger representations of P [Predictor] -> R [Response] relationships that form more quickly, thus resulting in women’s intuition. Along these lines, Jennings, Janowsky, and Orwoll (1998) found that estrogen levels in women correlated with performance speed on a sequential learning task.

Link to story on female intuition from BBC news.
PDF of Lieberman’s paper “Intuition: a social cognitive neuroscience approach”.

3 thoughts on “On female intuition”

  1. “…stronger representations of P [Preditor] -> R [Response] relationships…”
    Could you explain exactly what a Preditor is? It doesn’t seem to be in the dictionary and google results are clogged with misspellings of “predator”. I would guess it was some sort of chemical feedback type thing? Or is it a typo?

  2. This one’s a typo (now been fixed). It should be ‘Predictor’, which should hopefully make it clearer.

  3. Firstly, invoking striatal dopamine to explain female intuition seems to me unnecessary and unlikely – if there is a gender difference can’t we just say that paying more attention to social cues and being less bullish allows greater opportunity for intuition to play a role?
    Secondly, if striatal dopamine was encoding stronger predictor-reward relationships we would expect a greater frequency of erroneous, or superstitous, responses being learnt (you can’t just tune the striatum to say “make learning better” – if it was that simple evolution would already have done it). Is there any reason to think this is in fact the case?

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