Feeling before knowing why : the role of the orbitofrontal cortex in intuitive judgments-an MEG study

Ninja Horr, C. Braun, K.G. Volz

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25 Citations (Scopus)
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In theory, intuitive decisions are made immediately, without conscious, reasoned thought. They are experienced as decisions based on hunches that cannot be explicitly described but, nevertheless, guide subsequent action. Investigating the underlying neural mechanisms, previous research has found the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) to be crucial to intuitive processes, but its specific role has remained unclear. On the basis of a two-stage conceptualization of intuition suggested by Bowers, Regehr, Balthazard, and Parker Cognitive Psychology, 22, 72-110 (1990), we attempt to clarify the OFC's role in intuitive processing. We propose that it functions as an early integrator of incomplete stimulus input guiding subsequent processing by means of a coarse representation of the gist of the information. On the subjective level, this representation would be perceived as a (gut) feeling biasing the decision. Our aim in the present study was to test this neural model and rule out alternative explanations of OFC activation in intuitive judgments. We used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record participants' electromagnetic brain responses during a visual coherence judgment task. As in earlier studies, the OFC was found to be activated when participants perceived coherence. Using MEG, it could be shown that this increase in activation began earlier in the OFC than in temporal object recognition areas. Moreover, the present study demonstrated that OFC activation was independent of physical stimulus characteristics, task requirements, and participants' explicit recognition of the stimuli presented. These results speak to the OFC's fundamental role in the early steps of intuitive judgments and suggest the proposed neural model as a promising starting point for future investigations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCognitive Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014


  • Coherence judgments
  • Decision making
  • Intuition
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Orbitofrontal cortex


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