If you think about it, the paradox between keeping ourselves safe and meeting new people is instilled in us from a very young age. On one hand, we’re taught “stranger danger,” avoiding people we don’t know or people who seem threatening. On the other, we’re instructed not to judge a book by its cover. Even as adults, snap judgments (like reactions to grammar errors on dating apps) can help us decipher whom to trust. However, how are we expected to give in to our feelings and fall in love at first sight if we’re stuck judging others? Dr. Ben Rutt, a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Baltimore, feels that the line between gut feelings and judgments lies in how you think versus how you feel.

“You can describe a gut feeling in one or two words because it is an emotion,” Dr. Rutt said. “Meanwhile, it takes more words to describe a judgment because judgments are a type of thoughts, and our thoughts tend to be more wordy.”

Dr. Rutt describes gut feelings as just that: feelings. He says that they “are based off of all the past experiences we have and help guide us in new situations. They happen very quickly and may or may not be accurate.”

Gut feelings make sense. They are an advantage in terms of humans’ propensity for survival; if you have quick emotional instincts that protect you from a potentially dangerous situation, you’re more likely to survive and thrive. These feelings are great if you run into a snake (literal or figurative!) or sense danger in someone you’re meeting for the first time. Since they’re so rooted in emotions and your past experiences, they are snap reactions and not always rational.

In contrast, judgments, according to Dr. Rutt, are an interpretation that we make about a situation. “The key difference between gut feelings and judgments is that you feel one and think the other,” he said.

The important thing to remember here is that feeling takes no time at all, whereas thinking involves time to process and consider your gut reaction. In this way, your judgments use more information and data points, are a little easier to control than gut feelings, and therefore, are more capable of being changed (on the cons side, it’s also easier to spend too much energy overthinking something, like that one text that online dating prospect sent you).

Either way, gut feelings and judgments can be both good and bad, and there’s a place and time for both of them. We have visceral reactions to situations and people for a reason. But gut feelings and judgments based on things such as someone’s appearance or background are problematic because they aren’t rooted in that person’s actual identity. A person is more complicated than what meets the eye or a first impression, so using pure instinct prevents you from actually getting to know them.

“Being open to new information that may contradict our initial judgments or feelings is important,” Dr. Rutt said. “By doing that, we can determine whether we were jumping to conclusions or were right all along.” So keep an open mind, and follow your heart and your head.

Where do you draw the line between a gut reaction and a judgment? Let us know @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)