Tips for High-Impact Teamwork: Our sixth sense and other partial truths

Tyler Reimschisel, MD, MHPE

By Tyler Reimschisel, MD

In my recent Tips for High-Impact Teamwork articles, we have been discussing how our brain processes external inputs to create reality as a storyline of cause and effect. In my last article, I shared Kathryn Schultz’s writings that emphasize how we cannot depend on our sense of “wrongness” to alert us when we are wrong. That is to say that because of naïve realism, we feel confident in the accuracy of our beliefs and views, even when they are somewhat flawed, partially inaccurate or completely wrong. 

Certainly, we have all experienced individuals on our teams or in our workplaces who believe very strongly in the accuracy of their views, even when they are not fully correct. Similarly, if we are honest with ourselves, there are times when we have been incorrect without recognizing it. 

Our inability to depend on our sense of rightness to accurately detect when our viewpoints, opinions or thoughts are incomplete or inaccurate can be summarized as, “Don’t believe everything you think” (Schwarz 2013). I believe this sage advice also applies to intuition, our ability to read other people’s minds, thoughts, intentions and feelings. In this article, I would like to begin exploring the confidence we place in our intuition and why confidence in our “sixth sense” turns out to be another form of naïve realism. 

As I have written previously, a critical purpose of our brain is to keep us safe and protect us from the world around us (Storr 2020). Because we are among the most social creatures on the planet, this includes keeping us safe from the other humans whom we live, work and play with. 

For our brains to succeed, we seek to “read others.” Is that person a friend or foe? Do I feel like they can be trusted? Am I accurately able to read how they are perceiving me? 

This process of reading others is our intuition, and as a species, we think we are pretty good at it. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of egocentric bias. 

In a study by Rollings et al, subjects were asked to watch videos of monologues of strangers or relatives and close friends (Rollings 2011). As they watched the videos, the subjects were asked what the individuals in the videos were thinking and feeling. 

When compared to the actual thoughts and feelings the individuals in the videos reported, the accuracy of the subjects’ intuition was quite low. The subjects only achieved 20% accuracy when they were trying to predict the thoughts and feelings of strangers. Granted, the accuracy increased to about 35% when the subjects were watching the recordings of relatives and close friends, but this level of accuracy is much lower than we lead ourselves to believe. 

In other words, we place too much confidence in the accuracy of our intuition. Yet another example of grade inflation!

In one of my favorite studies in this field, Swann and Gill showed that our overconfidence in our intuition extends to our understanding of our romantic partners. In their study, one partner in the couple completed a survey about their perspectives on their self-worth, self-abilities and preferences. The second partner also completed the survey, but they were asked to score the questions as if they were the first partner. In other words, they were asked to predict, based on their intuition of their partner, how their partner would answer the questions. What makes this study particularly ingenious is that the second partners were also asked how confident they were in their predictions. 

So, how do you think the second partners did? Given the theme of this series of articles, you are probably guessing that their accuracy was not very good. Indeed, they were only accurate about 30% to 45% of the time. 

But what is even more concerning is that their confidence far exceeded their accuracy. The second partners predicted that they were accurate about 80% of the time! You may be thinking this must have been with couples who had only been together for a short time, and those who have been with a partner for years must have a much higher accuracy rate. Unfortunately, that is not what their study showed. In fact, for longer relationships, the accuracy rate was largely unchanged, yet the confidence rate did increase! 

This means that for the one person on the planet who we presumably know the best, our intuition is typically only partially correct, and yet we are highly confident in the complete accuracy of our intuition and perceptions. This is one of the many reasons Epley refers to human intuition as “an illusion of insight” (Epley 2014). 

As I mentioned in my most recent article, it is not that our intuition is completely wrong—it is just not completely right, even though we are pretty confident that it is correct. In other words, our feeling of “rightness” is an untrustworthy indicator of just how right we are. I encourage all of us to keep this potential for error in mind as we engage with our colleagues and coworkers. 

I will continue to explore our “illusion of insight” in my next article, then we will turn to ways that we can mitigate the inaccuracies of our constructed versions of reality, the deceptive nature of naïve realism and our other egocentric biases and the errors in our intuition.   

As a reminder, at least once a week our office is offering ways for staff, students and faculty to connect with each other and with individuals in Cleveland and at other institutions. The upcoming Connections schedule includes the following: 

Feb. 6 , noon to 1 p.m. EST: Teamwork Journal Club

Join us for a practical and immediately helpful discussion improving the effectiveness of your meetings. We will meet in Samson Pavilion, Room 139, or you can join us by Zoom from anywhere! 

Feb. 13, noon to 1 p.m. EST: Connect through Play

Come to the courtyard of Samson Pavilion to play board games with others in our community. 

Feb. 20, noon to 1 p.m. EST Themed Conversations

Bring your lunch to the courtyard of Samson Pavilion as we discuss the important topic of conflict management in teams. 

Feb. 21, 10 a.m. to noon EST: Teamwork Workshop on Teamwork Dimensions, Emotional Intelligence, and Psychological Safety

In this workshop you will learn about the multiple dimensions of a team and how this conceptual framework can help you assess your team better. We will also explore the foundational roles that emotional intelligence and psychological safety play in high-impact teamwork. The free workshop will take place in the Tinkham Veale University Center Ballroom A at Case Western Reserve University’s main campus. 

Feb. 27 from noon to 1 p.m. EST: Connecting Book Club

Join us in person or by Zoom as we continue our discussion of The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. We will meet in Samson Pavilion, Room 139, or you can join us from anywhere by Zoom. Missed last month’s book club? No worries. Join us anyway this month! 

We hope these experiences help broaden your network and build stronger relationships. Please check out our Connections webpages for more details. The Huddle Calendar also lists upcoming activities.


Epley N. Mindwise. Vintage Books, 2014.

Rollings et al. “Empathic accuracy and inaccuracy.” In: Strack S (ed). Handbook of Interpersonal Psychology. Wiley and Sons, 2011:143-156.

Schwarz R. Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results. Jossey-Bass, 2013:116.

Storr W. The Science of Storytelling. Abrams Press, 2020.

Swann EB and Gill MJ. “Confidence and accuracy in person perception.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1997;73:747-757.