Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

You know a thing or two about people, don't you?

You've seen some things in your time.

You've learned to sniff out the wasters, the con men, the manipulators and, just occasionally, the geniuses.

So you trust your intuition in just about every interaction.

The latest science would like to offer you a punch in the gut instinct.

Newly-published research from Harvard's Jennifer Lerner and Christine Ma-Kellams of the University of La Verne suggests that -- oh, this is so depressing -- those who think rationally and analytically are better at judging others.

The researchers pooh-pooh the fact that so many important institutions encourage the use of instinct over more plodding modes of thought.

They say serious scholars and popular books (translation: the self-help bilge at the airport bookstore) insist that instinct is best.

"The presumed advantages of intuition for empathic accuracy is also endorsed in several national security contexts, as evidenced by the U.S. Navy's $3.85 million dollar program of research on intuitive thinking processes," the researchers say.

Wait, our nation is protected by gut instinct?

In the four experiments performed by Lerner and Ma-Kellams, they found that the gray-suited actuary's way of thinking was best in discerning the emotional state of others.

"Across very different contexts," they say, "from mock interviews to controlled environments where only limited facial cues are available, an effortful mode of thought is associated with empathic accuracy."

Effort? No one likes to try when it come to people. We want natural -- what's the word? -- flow.

Lerner and Ma-Kellams seem to look askance at such an idea. They clearly have a rational basis for such a look.

They say: "The many settings in which the value of intuition is extolled (e.g., job interviews) may need to be assessed with a more nuanced perspective, if intuition in fact has limited value in certain aspects of social interaction."

The mere thought of humanity being ever-more systematized -- for its own good, you understand -- is painful.

They offer but one ray of hope.

They say that their findings are more relevant to situations in which you are unfamiliar with the other person.

It's a rather different emotional (and rational) dynamic when you know the other person or, say, are married to them.

Still, how sad it would be if in job interviews the candidate and the interviewer were both sitting there pondering rationally.

Has this person tied their tie in an optimal manner? What does that actually say about them?

Does this person's use of the word "awesome" signify a modern, free-thinker or merely someone who's pandering to a millennial?

With so much thinking going on, would there even be space for something that vaguely resembles human conversation?

Or is research really, really interesting in theory and not always so applicable in the irrational waters of real life?

Published on: Jul 30, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.