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Trust your Gut…Even on an Exam?

February 23, 2011

Everyone has heard that same last-minutes test taking tip “Trust your gut or you’ll change right answers to wrong ones!”, and I’m sure everyone has been taken a test in which you spend about 5 minutes debating whether you should change one of your multiple choice answers.  Part of you wants to trust your gut, but the other half pulls you away from that choice.  So what is the right thing to do?  Trust your gut or go against all socially contrived advice and change it to that other answer that you just can’t stop thinking about?  According to Hobbes, you should trust your gut.

In chapter 29 of Leviathan, Hobbes states “…whatsoever a man does against his conscience, is sin…” (229).  In correlation to this statement comes the thought as to whether one’s initial judgement is, in this sense, worse than allowing your judgement to become flooded with conflicting ideas that draw you away.  Hobbes justifies his aforementioned statement by adding, “…he has no other rule to follow but his own reason…” (229).  I can see what Hobbes is saying: there has to be some justification as to why you choose that first answer.  Maybe the myth (and Hobbes) are right in wanting to trust your gut, but I for one (as well as numerous studies) disagree with this accusation.

I personally feel that, although there had to be something that drew my attention to the initial answer choice, it is advantageous for the test taker to apply the knowledge he/she has accumulated to make their most accurate judgement.  And believe it or not, social science has my back.  According to a study by L.T. Benjamin, T.A. Cavell, and W.R. Schallenberger entitled “Staying with the initial answers on objective tests: Is it a myth?”, “The data across twenty separate studies indicate that the percentage of ‘right to wrong’ changes is 20.2%, whereas the percentage of ‘wrong to right’ changes is 57.8%, nearly triple” (1984).  In researching this topic, I found numerous studies that hypothesized against the myth and found positively correlated results, further denouncing the myth.

Maybe it’s all mental, maybe there is some truth to it.  What do you think?


Benjamin, L. T., Cavell, T. A., & Shallenberger, W. R. (1984). Staying with the initial answers on objective tests: Is it a myth? Teaching of Psychology11, 133-141.

  1. lapinsk12 permalink
    February 24, 2011 11:55 AM

    Hobbes’ statement “…whatsoever a man does against his conscience, is sin…” (229) is severely flawed in my opinion. Say if a psychotic person with serious mental health issues decides it is normal to kill puppies and he’s just going with his “gut”. This may not be the best example but In this case if you tell the man otherwise you are essentially telling him to sin. And Hobbes would be forced to agree with this because he wouldn’t dare tell someone to go against their conscience when clearly killing puppies is wrong and would go against anyone, with no mental health issues, conscience. This quote from Hobbes might be taken out of context but the way Brett Pere has cited it, it makes it sound like Hobbes is fine with a choice as long as it doesn’t go against your conscience. There’s is something seriously flawed with Hobbes’ thinking there. He might not have taken into account people with mental health issues but I think this is a very bad way to go about things. If we, as a country, had adopted this philosophy, then it would be extremely hard to prove anyone guilty of any crime.

    As to the main question of the post I think going with your gut is the best way. An example from my experience this semester has proven that. I was taking a Geoscience test and one of the questions was “What makes up the mass of an atom?”, simple enough question right. The two possible (non-bullshit) answers were “Protons and Neutrons” or “Protons Neutrons and Electrons”. Now you’re probably thinking to yourself this is the easiest question out there but not when you overthink it. At first the first answer seemed right to me but then I read the second possibility and I thought that electrons must account for something, it’s not possible they weigh nothing. And although I knew through experience that they were looking for “Protons and Neutrons” I decided to go with “Protons, Neutrons and Electrons” because I overthought the question and the answer. So based on this I would say that data is correct and your gut is usually your best answer. When having nothing to go off I’d say the answer that your gut says is better than the one that doesn’t have your gut is the best one to choose.

    • Zack Orsini permalink
      February 27, 2011 11:40 PM


      I would like to discuss your opinion regarding Hobbes’ conscience/sin theory.

      There is a difference between a sin and a crime. A sin is a personal moral failure that may or may not break any of the laws of the state. For example, if a man were to date several different women simultaneously while bamboozling each one of them into believing that they were “the one,” this would be a sinful deed (if the man had a properly formed conscience and believed it was wrong), but would not be breaking any of the laws of the state (at least any laws that I am aware of). A crime is a breaking of the law(s) of the state that may or may not also be a personal moral failure. For example, housing Jews in Nazi Germany was considered a crime, but would (by a correctly formed conscience) also be considered a personal moral success (i.e. not a sin).

      A psychotic person does not have a properly formed conscience. As a result, he/she may or may not even have a perception of what is “right” and what is “wrong.” This means that a psychotic person may not even be able to “sin,” since sin is a “personal moral failure.” A person without a personal moral standard cannot break a personal moral standard since there is nothing to break. A psychotic person can, however, be found guilty of a “crime” (as every other person can be found guilty under the law, regardless of their beliefs on what is right and wrong). This particular sort of criminal, who may or may not be mentally deranged, may be placed in an asylum rather than a prison. Regardless, this sort of person would be separated from society / punished without infringing upon Hobbes’ political philosophy or the political philosophy of the constitution of the United States of America.

  2. Melissa Boelstler permalink
    February 24, 2011 12:16 PM

    This was interesting, I’d have to say that almost any student would laugh (or not) and agree that there has been a time, or a few times, where they have changed their correct answer to something wrong at the last minute. It ink we should agree with Locke, because the gut feeling often is the most correct. Although, I’d say it is often times only the most correct when there is no or very scarce knowledge about the topic. Knowledge should always be placed before your guy feeling, but if there is not much knowledge, I’d say going with your gut feeling is the best choice, or so it has been found with me.

  3. Brian Fisher permalink
    February 28, 2011 1:37 PM

    Well Brett, you do provide sufficient evidence to suggest that a student should not feel hesitant when deciding to change an answer on an exam. Personally, I agree with your evaluation of this “myth” and I tend to answer a question with logic, and not my gut feeling. However, when Hobbes states ,” …whatsoever a man does against his conscience, is sin…” , the great philosopher and political scientist is evidently not referring to a multiple choice question on a test. Moreover, when one goes against his conscience, this individual does not make a decision that is so concrete as circling a choice on an exam. I believe that Hobbes is referring to a moral decision that has drastic implications on the individual making the choice, but more importantly, on a wide range of individuals as well. Likewise, when a man does against his conscience he fails to put the beliefs and thoughts of others ahead of his own and makes an irrational decision.

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