Following your instincts, Part II

In Part I of this post, I examined what people mean when they suggest a mother “follow her instincts” on parenting. The conclusion being that the word “instinct” doesn’t relate to what we normally call instinctual behavior in the animal kingdom – a mindless, genetically-programmed pattern of action. Instead, it usually refers to women using their intuition to parent their children, presuming that if they did so, the result would be that all women would wholeheartedly embrace AP. Is that a reasonable presumption, however?

Gary Klein is a cognitive psychologist who has made the study of intuition, and what fuels it, his life’s work. He has found that intuition is not, as commonly thought, a mental ‘bolt from out of the blue’; it’s clearly and demonstrably based upon past experience, which manifests itself through subconscious thought processes – the more experience you have on a topic, the more your you’ll be able to make correct decisions based upon your intuition. It’s not ESP, nor genetic programming. A salient example from the linked article (emphasis mine):

The critical role of recognition in decision making came into sharper focus when Beth Crandall, 51, vice president of research operations at Klein Associates, got a contract from the National Institutes of Health to study how intensive-care nurses make decisions. In 1989, she interviewed 19 nurses who worked in the neonatal ward of Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. The nurses cared for newborns in distress — some postmature, some premature. When premature babies develop a septic condition or an infection, it can rapidly spread throughout their bodies and kill them. Detecting sepsis quickly is critical. Crandall heard dozens of stories from nurses who would glance at an infant, instantly recognize that the baby was succumbing to an infection, and take emergency action to save the baby’s life. How did they know whether to act? Almost always, Crandall got the same answer: “You just know.”

But once again, the more accurate answer was this: “recognition.” By asking each nurse to recall specific details of when she suspected sepsis, Crandall compiled a list of visual cues showing that the baby was in the early stages of an infection: Its complexion would fade from a healthy pink to a grayish green; it would cry frequently, but then one day it would become listless and lethargic; it would feed abnormally, causing its abdomen to distend slightly. Each of these cues is extremely subtle, but taken together, they are a danger signal to an experienced nurse.

If intuition is a result of past experience, it stands to reason that since our past experiences – of parenting and other issues – are varied, so would “listening to our intuition” lead us down varied paths. And that, no matter what any “parenting expert” will tell you, is just fine.

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