Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for July 22nd, 2012

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Posted by nliakos on July 22, 2012

by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown 2005)

In the first part of this study on snap decisions, Gladwell seems to be saying that our snap judgments are more reliable than our rational, logical decisions (examples: people who recognized that the Getty Museum kouros is a fake, people who can correctly predict when a couple will divorce or which doctor will get sued for malpractice from watching a few minutes of videotaped conversation, Paul Van Riper’s rout of the U.S. military is Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) war games). But then he points to case after case where first impressions deceive: the Pepsi Challenge and new Coke, the shooting of Amadou Diallo). The snap decision is based on what is called thin-slicing: taking the tiniest bit of information and basing one’s decision on it. (I wonder if Thin-Slicing was the working title of the book!) When we base our judgments on prejudice, for example, which is impossible not to do (as explained in Chapter 3), we can make very bad decisions indeed.

Gladwell claims that the ability to thin-slice and make decisions based on those critical first moments is part of what makes us human: we all do it. But we don’t all do it. Gladwell does finally get around to this in Chapter 6: “The classic model for understanding what it means to lose the ability to mind-read is the condition of autism.” But it is not only people with autism who are “mind-blind.” I kept thinking of people on the autism spectrum, people with impaired social skills, people with nonverbal learning disorders. That is exactly what they cannot do. No wonder life is so stressful for them! They have no basis for predicting what other people are going to do. Every interaction must nerve-racking for them because it is so completely unpredictable.

Gladwell believes that people can learn to use their ability to thin-slice to live better, but in saying this he seems to contradict his contention that we cannot control our prejudices even if we want to (Chapter 3), so at the end of the book I was not sure which is true.

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