Visceral People, When Instinct Dominates Reason

Being ourselves, listening to our hearts, and not ignoring our emotions. There's a certain romanticism in the behavior of visceral people.
Visceral People, When Instinct Dominates Reason
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Visceral people are often viewed as attractive due to the genuineness of their words and actions. They’re sincere and determined, don’t distort their feelings, and are usually more resolute as they don’t need to inhibit their behavior so much. In addition, they let themselves be carried away by their emotions in a passionate way, with fewer filters. However, while it may seem fascinating, it has another problematic side.

Being excessively visceral defines a type of profile in which instinct and desire rule. At the mental level, the time distance between input and decision-making is reduced. Moreover, the more intense the desire, the impulse, or internal motivation, the less the reflective part has to say; hence, feelings of regret are common.

Psychology has been interested in this pattern of behavior for decades. In the past, these visceral reactions favored our survival. In fact, the visceral response is still present in our brain programming. However, sometimes, letting ourselves be carried away can often cause problems.

Visceral people often overreact. This can put their social relationships in check.

bearded man representing visceral people
Being extremely visceral has both benefits and risks. It’s important that the person knows how to develop a more reflective approach.

What are visceral people like?

A semantic definition of visceral relates to the intestines, the viscera. It concerns an individual’s deepest feelings, those that spring from their very depths. It involves their inner instincts and the repertoire of states such as pain, hunger, desire, fear, etc.

Dr. George Loewenstein, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University (USA), has spent a great deal of time studying these ‘gut’ factors. His research claims that most of us frequently exhibit visceral behavior.

A gut feeling is one that urges us to do something that’s not always ruled by reason. It’s the automatic mechanism that urges us to satisfy our hunger, scream when a wound hurts, and feel fear when we’re threatened, etc. These are natural and understandable behavioral patterns.

However, a problem occurs when we hand over control of our mental and non-mental actions to emotions that have a lot of energy associated with them. It happens when, for example, we get carried away by the internal signals of a brain addicted to tobacco, gambling, online shopping, alcohol, unhealthy food, and even a dependent and harmful relationship.

Some people are more visceral than others. Although this profile has certain positive and interesting traits, it also has a more problematic side. We describe it below.

The most visceral men and women have greater difficulty in foreseeing how their future reactions will be in certain situations.

Intuitions and hunches: the instinctive voice

The University of California (USA) has conducted research concerning the relationship between the phenomenon of intuition and instinctive behavior. In fact, this is a theoretical area that journalist and writer, Malcolm Gladwell, has addressed in his bestseller, Intuitive Intelligence (2005).

Many times, when you’re forced to make a decision, instead of analyzing each variable, you take the quickest way. Intuitions and hunches are shortcuts of thought that allow you to react quickly to everyday demands. It’s not only your past experience that dictates your behavior in these circumstances.

In fact, it’s your visceral emotions, such as fear, passion or curiosity, that drive you to act on your poorly thought-out decisions. Therefore, visceral people constantly let themselves be carried away by their intuition.

Problems with behavior control

The person with serious difficulties in controlling their emotions and impulses has severe problems in regulating their behavior. This makes it unpredictable. Not even they can foresee their future behavior. In fact, sometimes, just a misunderstanding at work is enough for them to overreact, leading to many negative consequences.

This isn’t only complex for those who are part of the individual’s environment. The individuals themselves also feel bad. Being aware that they don’t have full control over their behavior generates feelings of restlessness and discomfort in them.

Visceral people and passionate behavior

Being visceral can be an advantage for an artist looking to break the mold. It means living and expressing themselves from their deepest emotions. This has provoked interest in many professional fields.

On the other hand, when the visceral personality feels passion for something (or someone), they show an intense motivation oriented by desire.

However, by avoiding the filter of reason and the mechanisms of reflection, they often overdo it and make poor decisions and mistakes, and see their expectations continually unfulfilled. Furthermore, they’re usually highly emotional and this can sometimes lead to depressive or manic states.

Sad woman with her hands on her face representing visceral people
When we act on impulse and are driven only by intense emotions, we’re more likely to make mistakes.

The danger of acting against oneself

As we mentioned earlier, visceral people are often seen as attractive due to their authenticity, passion, and the excessive and effervescent enthusiasm they show when something interests them. However, one aspect that they also display is regret, contradiction, and the perception of not being in control of their own lives.

It’s really common to hear phrases like “I don’t know why I did this”, “I don’t understand why I sometimes behave this way”, “I can’t control myself when this or that happens”, etc. In fact, visceral people’s emotions often lead them to behave in a way that goes against themselves.

Well-being resides in the kind of behavior in which emotions and reason always act in consensual harmony. That’s the only way we’re able to make good decisions. Only in this way do we relate, achieve goals, and perceive ourselves in a more positive way.

Finally, we should mention that we can all exhibit visceral responses at certain times. Indeed, paying more attention to instinct and immediate desire than reason is a common occurrence. Therefore, it’s perfectly acceptable for it to happen occasionally but not all the time.

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.

  • Dhaliwal, G. Going with Your Gut. J GEN INTERN MED 26, 107–109 (2011).
  • Loewenstein, G. (1996). Out of control: Visceral influences on behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 65, 272-292.
  • Metcalfe, J., & Mischel W. (1999). A hot/cool-system analysis of delay of gratification: Dynamics of willpower. Psychological Review, 106, 3-19.

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