Instinct vs Intuition. What Is the Difference?

Have you ever considered the difference between intuition and instinct? Although these two are often used interchangeably, they have a few key distinctions.

According to experts, here is the difference between the two:

Shawndrika Cook, LPC

Shawndrika Cook

Licensed Professional Counselor, Choosing Therapy

Instinct is a born behavior that is activated when you interact with certain triggers and stimuli

What is the difference between instinct vs. intuition?

Well, instinct is something that is in you. A born behavior that is activated when you interact with certain triggers and stimuli. It is something that you can’t turn on and off. It’s the “Me” part of you that fuels the “Myself” (your soul, which includes your emotions, intellect, and feelings).

Your instinct is your protector factor

Your instinct is your protector factor. It controls your anxiety levels, your responses to new or unknown things, and the awareness of the moments that you need bold and brave.

Your intuition is based on experiences and helps cultivate the “Myself” (the soul). Your intuition is fueled by life experiences, whether good or bad. It gives you the awareness of the pros and cons of a situation. It helps you create solutions or cause problems.

In summary, it’s your conscious and subconscious at work in real-time.

Your intuition is also influenced by the wisdom and experience of others. It creates space for you to put that wisdom into play and test its validity. Though the two may be different, they overlap and fuel each other creating the concept of Me, Myself, and My experiences.

Timothy K. Yen, Psy.D.

Timothy Yen

Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Author, “Choose Better: The Optimal Decision-Making Framework

Both instinct and intuition have some similarities, but of course, their differences as well. It can be argued that both of them are strongly connected with a gut feeling that seems right.

The biggest difference would be the target and intentionality.

Instincts tend to be much more primal and focused primarily on survival

The Fight-or-Flight reaction is a common instinct that gives you a sense of potential danger and how to respond appropriately. The keyword is “reaction” because the information goes through the brain stem and demands a response similar to a reflex.

Intuition is derived both from past experiences and more deliberate thought

On the other hand, intuition is derived both from past experiences and more deliberate thought. It is a sense or hunch that informs one’s decisions, but the individual may or may not be able to pinpoint the source of information.

There is more of a connection with the prefrontal cortex, where the feeling is evaluated with some potential logical leads. Intuition leads to intentionality on what to do with the feeling rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

Bhante Bodhi Thi-O

Bhante Bodhi Thi-O

Founder and Chief, Poh Ern Si Temple

Instinct is the sensation of awareness towards our natural surrounding changes

Instinct tells us of any impending danger coming to sight. For instance, instinct in animals allows them to detect the ecological imbalances of their natural habitat like a forest fire, which leads and guides them to migrate to a safer place to live.

Instinct in humans comes in the form of the sixth sense, and it is this extra “sense” that lets us watch out for incoming dangers or misfortunate incidents, similar to the animal instinct.

Sadly, the human instinct is often lost from us primarily due to the following reasons:

  • wrong upbringing lacking morality
  • lack of discipline in character
  • mind is not calm or natural in thought enough

Intuition is the faculty of a higher sense of perception

On the other hand, intuition is the faculty of a higher sense of perception, which is a level of development above instinct. Intuition is the ability to identify a person’s moral character, be it of good or bad intention.

However, intuition can only be developed after the basic instinct of being constantly aware of the natural surroundings and their changes – instinct is a prerequisite to gaining intuition.

As an exception, intuition is sometimes gifted in certain individuals, hence you may notice some people have a keen perception to foretell the outcome of a phenomenon or even an impending windfall or problem. Even so, intuition can be trained and cultivated in everyone through constant practice of correct contemplation and meditation.

Since intuition is a divine sign of spiritual development, an immoral or evil person is unable to get it.

What is the difference between the two?

In short, intuition is a divine, finer knowledge of mankind that has both instinct and the ability to foretell future outcomes or identify a person’s true character, whereas instinct is a natural, earthly raw knowledge limited to the changes affecting our natural environment/surroundings.

For example, if you undertake a project or investment and sense a feeling of unease or foretell some shortcomings that eventually lead the project or investment to a hiccup, that is intuition. If you take a walk in the park and sense that rain is coming or a tree is going to fall, that is instinct.

How to develop instinct and intuition?

Instinct is originally present in each of us, but due to modern lifestyle, our raw instinct becomes hidden. Instinct can only be developed within ourselves, only when we can live naturally with a simple heart, without much thought for worldly materials.

Those who learn to feel contented with what they have will eventually develop instinct in character. Also, instinct will naturally arise when our mind is always calm and steady.

Intuition requires more than just a calm mind, though – we need to ponder, contemplate and reflect on our character and actions.

  • Have we cultivated enough good moral values?
  • Do we do a lot of prayers and incantations?
  • Do we abstain from all vices and corrupted activities as much as we can?

With the right practice and mindfulness on these aspects, you will be able to gain intuition.

Kim Woods

Kim Woods

Spiritual Leader and Transformation Expert

Instinct and intuition – same or different?

This is a common question, and many feel instinct and intuition are the same, but they are absolutely not. They are very different. Intuition and instinct are as different as a door is to a home, with your instinct being the door and your intuition being the home.

Instinct is a subset that acts as a doorway into your intuition

Therefore, instinct is a subset that acts as a doorway into your intuition. Your instinct gives you only a YES or NO answer and doesn’t develop into anything more than that. Your instinct remains the same no matter how often you use it.

On the other hand, your intuition has a complete conversation with you, develops over time, and becomes a confidante or advisor for anything going on in your life and business.

Let’s explore instinct first, as it’s the most common for people.

Following your instinct:

Your instinct is your doorway into intuition. It’s the initial knock and gives you your initial YES or NO reaction.

  • “Is this person my soul mate?”
  • “Should I hire this candidate?”
  • “Should I go in this direction to get to my appointment on time?”

If your answer is a ‘no,’ you’ll feel it in your body immediately. This is where the statements “gut instinct” or the “hair on the back of my neck stood up” come from as your body is giving you feedback about whether something is good for you or not.

The ‘no’ answers are stronger as they are the instinctive fight or flight response. Your ‘yes’ answers will be subtler. In fact, they may not generate any feeling at all.

The key is determining how your body communicates instinctively with you.

For many, your instinctive feelings do arise in your belly or your neck, but for others, your body responds differently. The key, therefore, is to figure out how your instinct responds to a YES or NO question. Your body may change temperature, make you shutter, give you goosebumps or even cause a soft flutter on your arms or legs.

Once you determine how your body instinctively gives you nudges, you’ll be able to rely on your instincts as a first response to entering the home of your intuition.

Your intuition becomes your guide, advisor, and confidante

Using your intuition:

Once you realize what a yes or no feels like in your body, you can start exploring and entertaining a more in-depth conversation. When you do, you’ll be talking with your intuition.

Your intuition begins as a whisper, inking, or nudge but over time involves impressions, stories, images, or even paragraphs of conversation with you. Your intuition may even speak in volumes with only one word.

Once you develop your intuition, it becomes your guide, advisor, and confidante.

Learning how your intuition speaks with you is also key and, ironically, may not have anything to do with how your instinct makes itself known. If your instinct involves your gut, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have sensation or feeling conversations with your intuition.

So, separate your expectation of how your intuition converses and instead open yourself up to you.

How your intuition speaks to you:

The clair’s are a type of indicator of how your intuition speaks with you.

There are 4 commonly known ones:

  • Clairaudience (hear messages)
  • Clairvoyance (see images)
  • Clairsentience (feel sensations)
  • Claircognizance (just knowing)

The most common clair is clairsentience, and this makes sense as it relates to ‘gut instinct.’ However, these are not directly tied together. Someone who uses their gut for an initial reaction, for example, may actually be clairvoyant.

Additionally, there are lesser-known clairs, including:

  • Clairalience (smelling)
  • Clairgustance (tasting)
  • Clairempathy (emotions)
  • Clairtangency (touch)

Whatever your intuitive conversation type (clair), you want to give your intuition the space it needs for you to be able to hear it initially and converse with it, ultimately. Why?

Your intuition shut down:

Although everyone is intuitive, your intuition most likely hasn’t been given a chance in your life. For most people, your intuition doesn’t automatically just start speaking to you the minute you decide you want to use it.

You’ve probably systematically shut your intuition down so many times it’s gone quiet.

There are layers to the shutdown. Usually, it begins at a young age, and you are told to eat when you’re not hungry, sleep when you’re not tired, and put on a schedule that defies the body’s natural inclination.

The next layer involves being ignored for your imagination and creativity that doesn’t fit in with the world around you.

The further layer includes you being chastised for ‘seeing,’ ‘hearing,’ or ‘knowing’ something that made the adults around uncomfortable.

The final layer comes from you, gaslighting yourself into putting other’s wants, needs, and expectations above your own. Then your mind kicks in further as it nails your intuition into a coffin as it rationalizes, tells stories, and basically reaffirms the external viewpoints and ignores your internal cues.

How to get your intuition back:

You can bring your intuition back into your life when you reestablish your body connection with your instinct. Remember, this is an excellent doorway into your intuition.

Next, determine how your intuition likes to converse (which clair are you?).

Finally, create time and space to be able to converse with your intuition. For many, breathing, yoga, walking in nature, working out, getting creative, and meditating are excellent ways to reconnect. For others, these don’t work, so you can get out magical tools, such as; pendulums or oracle cards.

You can also give yourself ways to observe and perceive what’s happening around you by noticing numbers, animals, and dreams, giving you symbols and signs.

Your instinct is:

  • A subset of your intuition
  • Connection with your body
  • It gives you a Yes or No answer
  • Doorway into opening your intuition

Your intuition is:

  • A conversation
  • Develops as you follow it
  • Becomes an excellent advisor and guide
  • Is the home you want to live in forever

Ultimately, your instinct and intuition are here for you to help you live the life of your dreams. Open the door and enter.

Jason Apollo Voss

Jason Apollo Voss

CEO of Deception And Truth Analysis (D.A.T.A.) | Author, “The Intuitive Investor: A radical guide for manifesting wealth

Instinct is a reaction to something we are primed by our senses

It is a frequent confusion that instinct and intuition are the same thing, but they are not.

From a biological and neurological perspective, instinct is a reaction to something for which we are primed by our senses. Very frequently, these reactions are immediate and happen with low self-awareness. These kinds of reactions, according to neuroscientists, are centered in the brain’s amygdala region.

Intuition is higher-level thinking

Intuition, by contrast, is higher-level thinking where frequently there is an immediate comprehension and understanding of something complex or previously misunderstood.

The scientists that research this space call them Aha! Moments.

From a neuroscience perspective, rather than intuition being centered in one brain region, it is distributed throughout the brain, including both hemispheres. It is close to a whole-brained activity.

But because the result of intuition is sometimes an immediate comprehension and insights materialize seemingly from nowhere, it is frequently likened to instinct.

Adding to the confusion is Daniel Kahneman’s work, where he cites other researchers’ System I and System II thinking. He likens System I to instinct and intuition and System II to the pre-frontal cortex, intellectual thinking. Yet, by neuroscience, we know this is not true.

If anything, intuition deserves to be considered a System III way of thinking.

Last, researchers of intuition have compared its problem-solving capabilities to intellectual thinking, and they have found it to be consistently more accurate when solving difficult puzzles/problems in lab settings.

Again, this proves that System I and System II are not fully descriptive of human thinking and that there is another system.

Alex Naranjo and Marlene Vargas

Alex Naranjo and Marlene Vargas

Founders, House of Intuition

Intuition offers us a way of growing, connecting, and coming into our power

Intuition is not magic, but the results of it can be. Magic and intuition are an integral part of who we are as human beings. In fact, magic has been a part of every culture dating back to the BC era. There’s a reason for that—while we tend to think of magic as something outside of ourselves, it’s actually a very basic and essential part of being human.

It offers us a way of growing, connecting, and coming into our power.

When using the term magic, we are not talking about magic in the pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat sense of the word. To us, magic is about connection. It’s about intentionally connecting with the forces bigger than ourselves who are here for the sole purpose of protecting and helping us through this life.

But, most of all, magic is about connecting with the power we all hold within—and our intuition is the primary way through which we make that connection.

What is intuition?

Intuition is built into each and every one of us, whether we recognize it or not. You’ve felt your intuition at play before, even if you haven’t called it that.

For some people, intuition is a sensation in their stomach; for others, it might be a ringing in their ears. Intuition presents itself as any number of feelings or sensations, and it’s different for each of us. Even if we press our intuition down or don’t acknowledge it, in some way, we all recognize intuition for what it is, even if only subconsciously.

When we choose to ignore it, we often find ourselves in sticky situations that we could have avoided. For example, you might know that someone’s energy doesn’t feel quite right to you the very first time you meet them, but press ahead with a friendship anyway.

When it all gets messy and falls apart a couple of years later, you look back and think, “I knew that. I knew how this was going to end before it even began. Why didn’t I listen to myself?”

Intuition is intangible, but we view it as concrete information that is downloaded from the spirit world. So, when it comes to the interplay of intuition and magic, your intuition often provides you with information that your guides want you to put into practice to bring your intentions to fruition.

It’s for this reason that we all have to be active participants in our own magic. No one else’s intuition can tell you what you are supposed to do.

Are we born with it?

I can see that, like most kids, I came to this earth connected to something greater than myself. Also, like most kids, that innate connection and belief were largely snuffed out by well-meaning adults.

My intuition was right there chatting away with me all along, but as the years went by, I was conditioned to disconnect from it.

It’s unfortunate because it’s so much easier to nurture our inborn intuition than it is to either shut that intuition down altogether and live a disconnected life or to go through the process of rediscovering our intuitive nature as an adult.

Harnessing intuition

The two of us and the thousands of clients we have worked with and heard stories from over the years are a testament that intuition and magic are a natural birthright and that the practice of those things can look any number of different ways.

Crystals are just one tool at our disposal for all the things we have come to believe in—for setting intention, enhancing intuition, and creating abundance.

The results of intuition

Once you begin to trust in your own intuition, you can more easily stay on the right path. When negativity comes your way, you will be able to identify it and extract the necessary lessons more quickly and easily.

Intuition serves as a great source of peace and harmony that is generated from within. It allows us to release fear because the more in touch with our intuition we become, the more we understand how powerful we really are.

Erica Russo

Erica Russo

Intuitive Life & Business Mentor | Podcast Host, Intuitive Souls Podcast

Intuition is soul-led guidance while instinct is an innate physical reaction or behavior to stimuli

“You know, I kind of had a feeling…”

Have you ever heard someone say this phrase? Have you ever said this phrase? This very popular sentence is proof that intuition is not just for the ‘spiritually gifted.’ It is within all of us.

It is a silent guidance system that brings you to the people, places, and things that you are meant to experience. When you are able to harness the power of this powerful connection to the cosmos, you are then able to create a life in flow with the universe. Opportunities become effortless, connections flow seamlessly, and you begin to believe in yourself.

It is through your intuition that your soul speaks. It is through feeling that your human body experiences intuition. This is where it starts to get tricky. In today’s world, feelings do not warrant much attention or respect. If we can’t see it, hear it, taste it, or touch it, we question it or throw it away.

No matter how strong they are, our feelings get tossed to the side when they actually hand delivering valuable information to us.

Answer these questions:

  • How many times has your intuition been wrong?
  • How many times have those feelings about certain things or places turned out to be 100% true?

The problem is not if you are intuitive; the problem is learning to trust it and listen to it.

When it comes to intuition, remember, it is more of a feeling than anything else. You might feel an energetic pull, or a gut reaction, or a ‘hunch’ that then leads you to the path of breadcrumbs you are meant to be following.

Try this: I do this exercise with my clients. I call it “2 truths and 1 lie.”

Find a friend and ask them to come up with 3 statements, one of them being a lie. Be sure to have your eyes closed while they say these statements. I notice our eyes get too fixated on trying to read the person’s body language or facial expressions instead of going within and letting our feelings guide us.

After the person shares all three statements, say which one you believe the lie is. Go ahead and have fun with this and let your friend have a try as well! This exercise allows you to begin to recognize how your intuition speaks to you and might surprise you!

How do you know the difference between Intuition and Instinct?

A simple way to know the difference between Intuition and Instinct is to think of intuition as a more soul-led guidance and instinct as an innate physical reaction or behavior to stimuli.

For instance, say you met someone, and the feeling you experienced felt like a warning sign. Maybe you felt like the person was untrustworthy or that they were hiding something. This would be your intuition (think of it as your own personal Internal Guidance System.)

Related: 15+ Signs of an Untrustworthy Person

Instinct is more of a physical reaction to something. For example, say you are driving a car, and the person in front of you stops short, your initial instinct would be to slam on the breaks. Another example would be if you are startled or scared, a reaction would be to jump, or gasp, or even scream!

Although they are similar in nature, Intuition and Instinct are two different ways our body responds to energy or stimuli.

Take note of the simple natural reactions you take on during your day and try the exercise that I shared above. Doing these will help you distinguish the difference between your natural instinct and intuitive abilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are instinct and intuition related to decision-making and problem-solving?

Instinct and intuition play an important role in decision-making and problem-solving. Instincts are often useful in situations that require quick, reflexive responses, such as avoiding danger or responding to emergencies. 

Intuition, on the other hand, is more useful in complex, uncertain situations where there is no clear answer or solution. Intuition can help us understand ambiguous information, connect seemingly unrelated ideas, and find creative solutions to problems.

Are some people naturally more intuitive or instinctive than others?

Yes, some people may be naturally more intuitive or instinctive than others based on various factors such as upbringing and life experience. However, both instinct and intuition can be developed and improved through practice and experience.

Are there any disadvantages to relying too much on instinct or intuition?

Yes, relying too much on instinct or intuition can have drawbacks. While both processes can be valuable sources of insight and guidance, they can also be influenced by biases, emotions, and other factors that distort our thinking and lead to mistakes. Instincts can be inflexible and may not always be appropriate for the situation. 

Intuition, while more adaptable, can also be prone to error if based on incomplete or biased information. Therefore, it’s important to use a combination of instinct, intuition, and rational, analytical methods to make sound decisions.

How can we balance instinct and intuition with rational thinking in decision-making?

Balancing instinct and intuition with rational thinking is key to effective decision-making. By combining these methods, you can ensure that your decisions are grounded in rational analysis and intuition and that you make the best possible choice given the information available. To achieve this balance, you can use a variety of methods, such as:

• Weighing the pros and cons of different options to make an informed decision.
• Gathering evidence and data to support or refute your instinct and intuition.
• Seeking out diverse perspectives and feedback to challenge your assumptions and broaden your perspective.
• Creating a decision-making framework that includes instinct, intuition, and analytical thinking.
• Testing your assumptions and hypotheses through experiments or simulations to reduce uncertainty and improve accuracy.

How can we use instinct and intuition to improve our relationships with others?

Instinct and intuition can be valuable tools to improve our relationships with others. When we develop our empathic instincts and intuition, we can better understand the feelings, thoughts, and motivations of others and more effectively address their needs and concerns. This can be especially important in personal relationships, where empathy and understanding are key to building trust and intimacy. 

However, it is important to be aware of our intuition’s potential biases and limitations and to seek feedback and validation from others to ensure our perceptions are accurate.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

As you found this post useful...

Share it on social media!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?