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Counterintuitive means contrary to what seems intuitively right or correct. A counterintuitive proposition is one that does not seem likely to be true when assessed using intuition or gut feelings.[1]

Scientifically discovered, objective truths are often called counterintuitive when intuition, emotions, and other cognitive processes outside of deductive rationality interpret them to be wrong. However, the subjective nature of intuition limits the objectivity of what to call counterintuitive because what is counter-intuitive for one may be intuitive for another. This might occur in instances where intuition changes with knowledge. For instance, many aspects of quantum mechanics may sound counterintuitive to a layman, while they may be intuitive to a particle physicist.

Flawed understanding of a problem may lead to counter-productive behavior with undesirable outcomes. In some such cases, counterintuitive policies may then produce a more desirable outcome.[2]

Counterintuition in science

Many scientific ideas that are generally accepted by people today were formerly considered to be contrary to intuition and common sense.

For example, most everyday experience suggests that the Earth is flat; actually, this view turns out to be a remarkably good approximation to the true state of affairs, which is that the Earth is a very big (relative to the day to day scale familiar to humans) oblate spheroid. Furthermore, prior to the Copernican revolution, heliocentrism, the belief that the Earth goes around the Sun, rather than vice versa, was considered to be contrary to common sense.


See also


  1. "Counterintuitive: –adjective. Counter to what intuition would lead one to expect: The direction we had to follow was counterintuitive—we had to go north first before we went south." Retrieved: 09 NOV 2010.
  2. New Scientist, July 2005

Further reading

  • , S. A. (1989). Comprehension of counterintuitive science text: Effects of prior knowledge and text structure. The Journal of Educational Research 82 (4): 197–202.
  • (1971). Counterintuitive behavior of social systems. Technology Review. Template:Citeseerx. Based on testimony given to the Subcommittee on Urban Growth of the Committee on Banking and Currency, U.S. House of Representatives. Updated March, 1995.
  • (2008) Impossible?: surprising solutions to counterintuitive conundrums, Princeton University Press.
  • (2006). The cultural selection of minimally counterintuitive narratives. Cognitive Science 30: 531–553. Template:Citeseerx.

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