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Women's Health

Proof of Women’s Intuition

If you suspect that you have what is popularly called women’s intuition, you may be right. Researchers at the University of Granada, the Barcelona Pompeu Fabra University, and the Middlesex University of London have shown that the tendency to be intuitive could have a biological component related to the lower prenatal exposure to testosterone females receive in the womb. This team says this would lead women to have a "more intuitive and less reflective" attitude to life than men. The study was published in 2014 in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

A release from the University of Granada explains that the researchers used a prenatal testosterone marker called "digital ratio". This is obtained by dividing the length of the forefinger by the length of the ring finger of the same hand. "The lower the ratio, the greater the prenatal testosterone received and, therefore, the more "masculine" the cerebral disposition, regardless of the person's gender. Men, obviously, have a lower average digital ratio than women", as pointed out by co-author Antonio Manuel Espin, lecturer at the Dept. of Economic Theory and History at the University of Granada in Spain.

The release notes that according to previous studies, prenatal exposure to testosterone affects developments in the brain that determine, to some extent, behavioral trends and tendencies throughout the life. Males receive a higher amount of prenatal testosterone, which scientists say makes them likely to take more risks than women do.

Intuitive thought can be defined as that which is processed automatically and unconsciously and which requires little cognitive effort. On the other extreme is reflexive thought, which takes greater effort and conscious analysis. The former is based on sensations and is more emotional, while the latter is analytical and more rational. In certain situations, letting yourself be led by intuition will be better than stopping to think. In other situations, the opposite will occur.

The authors of the study wondered whether exposure to testosterone also has an effect on men being less intuitive and more reflexive than women. The team carried out a series of experiments on over 600 participants. The participants first responded to a series of questionnaires, among which was the so-called Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), a test that precisely measures the dichotomy between intuition and reflection. The CRT consists of three simple algebraic questions that, given how they are presented, generate intuitive answers that come automatically but which are incorrect. To get the right answer, the person has to stop to reflect and realize that the first answer that came into his/her head was incorrect.

Using only three questions, this test has proved to be capable of predicting a whole range of behaviors, one of which is believing in God or in the supernatural – which relates positively to answering the test intuitively. Espin points out that "what is most important here is that women tend to give more intuitive answers, whilst men respond in a more reflexive way. In other words, in this specific test, which penalizes intuitive thought, men generally do better than women".

Following the tests, the researchers scanned the participants' hands to measure finger length and calculate the digital ratio.

The results were clear. Men responded better to the CRT than women but, among the latter, those that showed a more "masculine" (ie, lower) digital ratio, answered equally as well as the men. "To be more specific, what we found was an indication that prenatal exposure to testosterone predisposes people to adopt a more reflexive and less intuitive mindset. Furthermore, this effect seems to be stronger among women".

The authors of this study are, in addition to Antonio Manuel Espin, from the University of Granada, Antoni Bosch Domènech, from the Pompeu Fabra University and Pablo Brañas Garza, from London.