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How Is Memory Related With Intuition In Decision Making?

Science tells us that our memories help us to ‘connect the dots’ in intuition-based decision-making. But if intuition feels like more of a spark of knowing without knowing why, or with having memories, then how or why is memory related with intuition? Let’s have a look.

Memory's related to intuition

intuition in decision making and memory

Scientific literature describes various means of intuition, including: problem-focused, creative, social, and moral types in the field of psychology. 1 Is memory involved in these?

Understanding the process of intuition is complex and multidimensional. 1 See instinct vs intuition.

You might consider problem-focused as the main determinant in decision-making but business and management researchers refer to an ‘entrepreneurial intuition’, which apparently draws on all four types of intuition mentioned above.1

Entrepreneurs often express their reliance on intuition for several types of decisions while labelling its source somewhere hidden in a black box of our mind.

S. Nandram in Philosophy of Management (2016)

Still, Gore and Sadler-Smith’s work in unpacking intuition identifies problem-solving intuition, that includes matching of patterns with “prototypes and scripts held in long-term memory”, as the only type related with memory. 1

In many accounts, the decision-making that involves intuition is considered spontaneous and affect-based.2 Whereas, the alternative: deliberate decision-making, infers effort, planning and analyses. 2

What science says about memory and intuition

How it works is that our brain catalogues every diverse experience (sights, sounds, interactions) in our memory. Intuition draws from that source to inform our decision making.

Not all memory relates with intuition the same

In a 2006 study, Frank and other researchers3 tested the effect of impairing explicit memory on the decision making of healthy participants (23 of them). They used Midazolam, a common drug used in medical procedures that works on the hippocampus in such a way that it induces temporary amnesia, which can be beneficial for both the patient and the surgeon.

Note that the hippocampus is considered the site of the brain associated with the primary memory processes.

What’s this explicit memory? It’s the one we’re conscious of using, for example, when we intentionally learn or recall information for exams or simply when we note the price, size, or color of products we intend buying.

Compare this with implicit memory, which are experiences we record and recall unawares, as discovered from the study of subjects during temporary amnesia.

Researchers of the 2006 study concluded that intuition works to guide choices, and more so when explicit (conscious intentional) memory was restricted.3

It seems our implicit memory plays a key role in intuition (the problem-solving type, at least).

Perhaps this accounts for why those sensitive to their surroundings are more highly intuitive in that they sense and absorb more of what’s around them, unawares and draw on this source as intuition (my thoughts).

Summing up Memory and intuitive decision making

There are two modes of decision-making characterised by psychologists: intuitive and deliberate.

Research indicates that implicit memory, which involves the unconscious storing and recall of experiences is related with intuition in decision-making. Could this be the case with intuition in general?


  1. Gore, J., & Sadler-Smith, E. (2011). Unpacking Intuition: A Process and Outcome FrameworkReview of General Psychology, 15, 304 – 316.
  1. Pachur, Thorsten, Spaar, Melanie. (2015).
    Domain-specific preferences for intuition and deliberation in decision making. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. 4(3), 303-311.
  1. Frank, M. J., O’Reilly, R. C., & Curran, T. (2006). When Memory Fails, Intuition Reigns: Midazolam Enhances Implicit Inference in HumansPsychological Science17(8), 700–707.