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Are you an ‘emotional oracle’? How feelings predict the future

12 April, 2012

Natural Health News — People who trust their feelings are able to perceive future events more accurately than those who don’t.

US researchers conducted a series of eight studies in which their participants were asked to predict various future outcomes, including the 2008 US Democratic presidential nominee, the box-office success of different movies, the winner of American Idol, movements of the Dow Jones Index, even the weather.

Despite the range of events and prediction horizons (i.e.when the future outcome would be determined), the results across all studies consistently revealed that people with higher trust in their feelings were more likely to correctly predict the final outcome than those with lower trust in their feelings. The researchers call this phenomenon the emotional oracle effect.

Across studies, the researchers used two different methods to manipulate or measure how much individuals relied on their feelings to make their predictions. Their findings are published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Highly accurate predictions

Regardless of the method used, however, participants who trusted their feelings in general or were encouraged to trust their feelings experimentally were more accurate in their predictions compared to participants with lower trust in their in their feelings and participants in a control group.

In one study involving the Clinton-Obama contest in 2008, high-trust-in-feelings respondents predicted correctly for Obama about 72% of the time compared with low-trust respondents, who predicted for Obama about 64%of the time – a striking result given that major polls reflected a very tight race between Clinton and Obama at that time.

For the winner of American Idol, the difference was 41% for high-trust-in-feelings respondents compared to 24% or low-trust respondents. In another study participants were even asked to predict future levels of the Dow Jones stock market index. Those who trusted their feelings were 25% more accurate than those who trusted their feelings less.

Feelings are a synopsis of what we know

The researchers explain their findings through a “privileged window” hypothesis. Lead author Professor Michel Pham, Kravis Professor of Business, Marketing, Columbia Business School explains: “When we rely on our feelings, what feels ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ summarises all the knowledge and information that we have acquired consciously and unconsciously about the world around us.

“It is this cumulative knowledge, which our feelings summarise for us, that allows us make better predictions. In a sense, our feelings give us access to a privileged window of knowledge and information – a window that a more analytical form of reasoning blocks us from.”

Local knowledge helps

The researchers do caution, however, that some amount of relevant knowledge appears to be required to more accurately forecast the future.

For example, in one study participants were asked to predict the weather. While participants who trusted their feelings were again better able to predict the weather, they were only able to do so for the weather in their own zip codes, not for the weather in Beijing or Melbourne.

Co author, Professor Leonard Lee, Associate Professor, Marketing, Columbia Business School, explains this is because “…they don’t possess a knowledge base that would help them to make those predictions.” As another example, only those who had some background knowledge about the current football season benefited from trust in feelings in predicting the winner of the national college football BCS game.

All in all, the study is a really interesting endorsement of the fact that given a proper knowledge base, the future need not be totally indecipherable if we simply learn to trust our feelings. Or to put it another way – just try to follow your heart!