Sometimes I've heard people using the term gut feeling rather than their 'intuition or instinct' and I'm not sure which one do they mean. So, can both the terms be used interchangeably and simply referred to as a 'gut feeling'? Is there a real difference between Instinct and Intuition?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ a gut feeling would be an intuition. a gut reaction would be an instinct. $\endgroup$
    – BenCole
    Aug 15, 2012 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ From context, I assume "instinctive" indicated an ability that one is born with and "intuitive" indicates an ability that is easy to grasp by many. $\endgroup$
    – user11415
    Apr 23, 2016 at 17:24

4 Answers 4


Intuition, as defined by Wikipedia:

Intuition may be defined as understanding or knowing without conscious recourse to thought, observation or reason.

Intuition is currently understood to be the subliminal processing of information that is too complex for rational thought, e.g. mate choice. The processes that make up intuition are learned, not innate.

Instinct is not a feeling, but an innate, "hardwired" tendency toward a particular behavior. Instincts are automatic reactions to environmental stimuli that cannot be repressed and occur in every individual of a species. The current opinion in psychology (since Maslow) is that human beings have no instincts.

A Gut Feeling, according to the reference, arises from intuition.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Can a gut feeling be both instinct and intuition? $\endgroup$
    – cpx
    Apr 22, 2012 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ I think so, cpx. A gut feeling is a sensation. The nature of it could be acquired (intuition) or instinctual. $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2012 at 5:33

Instinct - a motor response initiated by the body totally controlled by an external stimulus. An instinct is by definition, a behavior.

Intuition - A sudden alignment of neuronal pathways that joins weakly associated concepts, ideas, facts, into a neuronal network that pulls conscious selective attention skills away from current activities. May induce a positive somatic reaction estbalishing a pleasuraable experience from the thought or idea.

In more colloquial terms (e.g. woman's intuition) its activation of an established network in response to multiple external stimuli that alone would not draw attention. However, it is still a cognitive process whereas instinct is a behavioral process. This should help:

The setting was all wrong, his intuition was telling him this was a set-up. Suddenly it all made sense, the ill fitting uniform on the guard, the broken security camera, the elevator being out of order, instinctively he dropped to the floor and reached for his gun" - intuition - thought resulting from multiple stimuli meaningless on their own, instinct ; immediate reaction WITHOUT forethought.


Instinct is neither learned nor developmental behavior. Intuition is awareness outside of conscious searching or conscious algorithmic behavior. Autonomous activity is a reflex or heart beating that is automatic (may be a conditioned responding).

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have an authoritative reference for these? $\endgroup$ May 10, 2013 at 22:26


     If the “hunger instinct” and the “sex instinct” are in fact instincts, then one can deduce instinct to be: “ a biological force that has the capability to produce a periodical biological urge of a particular type." 

    According to this theory, the following is the list of the instincts that are present in men and women:         1. Respiratory instincts - instinct of inspiration and instinct of expiration.         2. Hunger instinct.         3. Thirst instinct.         4. Defecation instinct.         5. Urinary instinct.         6. Blinking instinct (of the eyes during waking).         7. Instinct of sleep.         8. Orgasm instinct (in grown-ups), commonly known as the sex instinct. The orgasm instinct periodically produces an urge for orgasmic ejaculation.

    Besides the above-mentioned instincts, women also have the following special instincts:         a) Instinct of menstruation. 

        b) Instinct of ovulation and pregnancy.         c) Birth-giving instinct in pregnant women.         d) Lactation instinct in nursing mothers. 

     Three of these special instincts make women biologically superior to men in the propagation and survival of the human race! 


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