Intuitive Learning: Acting on Your Hunches

It's estimated that, from the age of six, children demonstrate intuitive learning. This means that they're able to learn and make decisions by relying only on their hunches.
Intuitive Learning: Acting on Your Hunches
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 10 April, 2023

Intuitive learning complements rational learning. In fact, it could be said that a good part of what you do and integrate on a daily basis is based on instinctive intuition. It allows you to associate stimuli, make deductions, and even solve problems. As a matter of fact, this cognitive process, which isn’t subject to logical or inductive mechanisms, defines all of us.

Our ancestors governed their daily lives based on this approach to learning. That’s because, in a wild and challenging environment, they had to develop innovative survival mechanisms. They required perception, instinct, and strategies to hunt, defend and adapt to all kinds of environments.

Children are also often guided by this approach. Because, as they don’t yet have a great deal of previous experience to draw on, they act, react, and also learn intuitively. They also adopt the classic trial-error scheme.

However, we mustn’t underestimate the value of the subconscious. This is knowledge that doesn’t follow a rational path in its construction and formulation.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

-Albert Einstein-

Woman thinking about intuitive learning
Much of what we learn follows an intuitive mechanism.

Characteristics of intuitive learning

Intuitive resolutions can often help you when it comes to certain personal problems or making decisions. For example, when you don’t really know what to do due to a lack of previous experience in a particular kind of situation. It’s then that you act on a hunch, on an almost instinctive impulse that allows you to shape a specific response or decision.

Intuitive learning defines the ability to suddenly understand something without the need for conscious analytical or logical reasoning. This mechanism, far from being supernatural, unreliable, or scientific, actually holds great value. That’s because there are times when, in circumstances of uncertainty or lack of information, you’re required to act quickly and immediately.

Intuitive knowledge makes it easier for you to make use of insight. The kind that allows you to muddle through in moments of complexity, pressure, and urgency. Furthermore, this type of reasoning always complements rational learning. In fact, you frequently make use of one or the other, and acting on your hunches is a perfectly valid process.

Intuitive learning starts from our senses and perceptions and from their connection with the subconscious, where our experiences and personality lie.

The subtle feeling of knowing something, without ‘knowing why’

In the late 20th century, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles set out to acquire a large kouros statue. It was a figure of a young man from Ancient Greece. The purchase was to involve an outlay of several million dollars. Therefore, before proceeding with the transaction, they sent a group of experts to carry out a thorough inspection of the statue.

The experts concluded that the beautiful kouros was authentic. However, the curator of the museum happened to see the work of art by chance and had a hunch that it was a fake. In fact, even though he wasn’t an expert on ancient Greek works, he had a strong feeling that it was a copy. After a new analysis, he was proved right. So, how did he know?

As a matter of fact, he knew because intuitive learning reaches sudden conclusions without knowing the previous relationships or variables that have led to that resolution. Indeed, your intuition is supported by your experiences, your personality, and the record of your life stored in your subconscious.

Intuitive learning: quick and illogical understanding

Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and renowned author of several books on intelligence, claims that there’s as much value in rational learning that takes months, as in intuitive learning, that emerges in two seconds. The reason is that they’re both related.

After all, even when you act on a hunch when you’re faced with a challenge, you have previous experience that allows you to act in one way or another. Along the same lines, research conducted by the University of Tübingen (Germany) claims that making decisions based on intuition always starts from previous experiences.

Nevertheless, there’s one condition. It’s the fact that every conclusion you reach is the product of your subconscious and isn’t subject to any type of logical or analytical analysis. They’re quick, impulsive, and creative reactions. Remember, your subconscious brain stores lessons and insights from your past experiences.

Therefore, when you learn something quickly, you do so by retrieving similar experiences and thought patterns from your subconscious.

Girl with a surprised face representing that only children are more creative
Children frequently apply intuitive learning.

Children develop intuition at the age of six

In 1976, a study was conducted on the subject of intuitive thinking. It claimed that children experienced intuitive thoughts from the age of six. Indeed, by this age, described by Piaget as the concrete operations stage, children start to demonstrate more organized and logical reasoning.

This is the ideal prelude for intuition to emerge. Because, at this age, children already have a certain life experience, which is added to a slightly more analytical approach. It allows them to intermingle moments of intuitive learning with rational learning. However, there’s another advantage at this age: they possess highly creative minds.

This means that, between the ages of six and 11, children relate to and explore their environment through an innovative and intuitive mental approach. Learning, deciding, and creating through that sixth sense is something that’ll prove to be immensely useful to them throughout their lives.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Betsch, T., & Roth, P. (2018). Intuitive thinking. In L. J. Ball & V. A. Thompson (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of thinking and reasoning (pp. 37–56). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
  • Shiloh, Shoshana & Salton, Efrat & Sharabi, Dana. (2002). Individual differences in rational and intuitive thinking styles as predictors of heuristic responses and framing effects. Personality and Individual Differences – PERS INDIV DIFFER. 32. 415-429. 10.1016/S0191-8869(01)00034-4.
  • Zander, T., Öllinger, M., & Volz, K. G. (2016). Intuition and Insight: Two Processes That Build on Each Other or Fundamentally Differ?. Frontiers in psychology7, 1395.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.