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Intuition vs. Instinct: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on September 26, 2023
Intuition is a quick, unconscious process allowing one to understand or know something without the need for conscious reasoning, while Instinct is an innate, fixed pattern of behavior in response to stimuli, mainly driven by survival and reproduction.

Key Differences

Intuition and Instinct are both intrinsic and essential aspects of human and animal behavior. Intuition is often characterized as a 'gut feeling' or an 'inner voice' that guides decision-making without the intervention of conscious thought or logical reasoning. It is a subconscious process that may be influenced by past experiences, knowledge, and environmental cues. Instinct, on the other hand, is a natural, unlearned behavior pattern. It is driven primarily by genetic predisposition and is common to all individuals of a species.
Intuition can be seen as a form of internal guidance that can help in making decisions in ambiguous situations. It may lack a rational basis and is not always correct, but it can be refined through experience and reflection. Instinct is typically inflexible and automatic. It emerges without prior learning and is geared towards the survival of an individual or species, such as the instinct to flee from danger or to find food.
While Intuition seems to be more related to the brain and consciousness, acting as a mental shortcut to solve problems or make judgments quickly, Instinct is more related to inherent traits and biological structures, such as hormones and neural circuits, that propel an individual to act in a certain way without conscious thought. Instinct is thus more primitive and fundamental, often shared with other animals, while intuition is seen as a higher cognitive function.
Intuition can be influenced and developed through learning, reflection, and practice. It can be seen as a form of acquired knowledge, susceptible to individual differences. On the contrary, Instinct is generally stable and unchanging, predetermined by the genetic makeup of an individual, and is consistent across individuals of the same species.
Each serves a unique purpose: Intuition aids in navigating complex social and environmental contexts where logical analysis may fall short. In contrast, Instinct ensures the execution of essential life-preserving actions and reactions that have been naturally selected through evolution to promote survival and reproduction.

Comparison Chart


Quick, unconscious understanding or knowing
Innate, fixed pattern of behavior

Driven by

Subconscious processes, past experiences
Genetic predisposition, survival needs


Can be refined and developed
Generally inflexible and automatic

Relation to species

Higher cognitive function, more developed in humans
Common to all individuals of a species, shared with other animals


Solves problems, make judgments in complex situations
Promotes survival and reproductio

Intuition and Instinct Definitions


Intuition is a perception or feeling had without deliberate thought.
Based on my intuition, I would avoid investing in that stock.


Instinct is an inherent behavior that responds automatically to stimuli.
The bird’s instinct led it to migrate before winter.


Intuition can be considered as a gut feeling or inner voice.
Her intuition was saying that something was wrong, and it turned out to be correct.


It is a fixed and inborn reaction or ability.
The cat’s hunting instinct was evident when it saw a mouse.


Intuition is an immediate understanding or knowing without conscious reasoning.
His intuition told him that the deal was too good to be true.


Instinct is typically inflexible and automatic.
The instinct to protect her young was strong in the mother bear.


It is a quick insight that arises subconsciously.
She had an intuition about the success of the new product.


It is an unlearned, natural pattern of behavior.
It is an animal's instinct to be alert to potential dangers.


It is an unconscious form of knowledge that transcends rational explanation.
Intuition led the detective to suspect foul play, despite the lack of evidence.


Instinct is driven by innate biological factors, ensuring survival.
The instinct to find shelter is common among many species.


The faculty of knowing or understanding something without reasoning or proof.


An inborn pattern of behavior that is characteristic of a species and is often a response to specific environmental stimuli
The spawning instinct in salmon.
Altruistic instincts in social animals.


An impression or insight gained by the use of this faculty
"I had this intuition you would come here just after the rain broke" (Carson McCullers).


A powerful motivation or impulse.


Immediate cognition without the use of conscious rational processes.


An innate capability or aptitude
An instinct for tact and diplomacy.


A perceptive insight gained by the use of this faculty.


Deeply filled or imbued
Words instinct with love.


A looking after; a regard to.
What, no reflection on a reward! He might have an intuition at it, as the encouragement, though not the cause, of his pains.


(Obsolete) Impelled from within.


Direct apprehension or cognition; immediate knowledge, as in perception or consciousness; - distinguished from "mediate" knowledge, as in reasoning; as, the mind knows by intuition that black is not white, that a circle is not a square, that three are more than two, etc.; quick or ready insight or apprehension.
Sagacity and a nameless something more, - let us call it intuition.


A natural or inherent impulse or behaviour.
Many animals fear fire by instinct.


Any object or truth discerned by intuition.


An intuitive reaction not based on rational conscious thought.
An instinct for order; to be modest by instinct
Debbie's instinct was to distrust John.


Any quick insight, recognized immediately without a reasoning process; a belief arrived at unconsciously; - often it is based on extensive experience of a subject.


(archaic) Imbued, charged (with something).


The ability to have insight into a matter without conscious thought; as, his chemical intuition allowed him to predict compound conformations without any conscious calculation; a mother's intuition often tells her what is best for her child.


Urged or stimulated from within; naturally moved or impelled; imbued; animated; alive; quick; as, birds instinct with life.
The chariot of paternal deity . . . Itself instinct with spirit, but convoyedBy four cherubic shapes.
A noble performance, instinct with sound principle.


Instinctive knowing (without the use of rational processes)


Natural inward impulse; unconscious, involuntary, or unreasoning prompting to any mode of action, whether bodily, or mental, without a distinct apprehension of the end or object to be accomplished.
An instinct is a propensity prior to experience, and independent of instructions.
An instinct is a blind tendency to some mode of action, independent of any consideration, on the part of the agent, of the end to which the action leads.
An instinct is an agent which performs blindly and ignorantly a work of intelligence and knowledge.
By a divine instinct, men's minds mistrustEnsuing dangers.


An impression that something might be the case;
He had an intuition that something had gone wrong


Specif., the natural, unreasoning, impulse by which an animal is guided to the performance of any action, without thought of improvement in the method.
The resemblance between what originally was a habit, and an instinct becomes so close as not to be distinguished.


A natural aptitude or knack; a predilection; as, an instinct for order; to be modest by instinct.


To impress, as an animating power, or instinct.


Inborn pattern of behavior often responsive to specific stimuli;
The spawning instinct in salmon
Altruistic instincts in social animals


(followed by `with')deeply filled or permeated;
Imbued with the spirit of the Reformation
Words instinct with love
It is replete with misery


Is intuition always correct?

No, intuition can be incorrect as it bypasses logical reasoning and is based on subconscious processes and experiences.

Can intuition be developed or enhanced?

Yes, intuition can be refined and developed through learning, reflection, and practice.

Is instinct unique to animals?

No, humans also have instincts, such as the fight-or-flight response, which are essential for survival.

Can instinct be overridden?

Yes, humans can often override instincts through conscious thought, reasoning, or learned behavior.

Can intuition be explained logically?

Often, intuition cannot be immediately logically explained, but it might be rationalized in hindsight.

Is intuition the same as a hunch?

Yes, a hunch is a synonym for intuition, representing a feeling or guess based on subconscious information.

Are instincts learned behaviors?

No, instincts are innate, unlearned behaviors that are genetically predisposed.

Can instincts be observed in newborns?

Yes, many instincts, such as sucking and grasping, can be observed in human newborns.

Are instincts always related to survival?

Most instincts are related to survival, reproduction, or other basic life-preserving needs.

Is intuition based on past experiences?

Yes, intuition often draws upon past experiences, knowledge, and subconscious information.

Is intuition a form of intelligence?

Intuition is considered by some as a form of intelligence, reflecting an ability to solve problems and make judgments subconsciously.

Can everyone experience intuition?

Yes, everyone can experience intuition, but its accuracy and frequency may vary from person to person.

Are instincts voluntary reactions?

No, instincts are involuntary and automatic reactions to specific stimuli.

Does intuition occur quickly?

Yes, intuition is typically a fast, automatic process that occurs without deliberate thought.

Can instincts be modified?

While instincts are generally fixed, some learned behaviors can modify the expression of instinctual behaviors.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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