Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is a riveting look at rapid cognition, or our natural ability to form snap judgments. Gladwell compiles an assortment of compelling examples of how we use our rapid cognition-sometimes for better, sometimes for worse-to make split decisions.

Meet a psychologist who can predict with 95% accuracy whether a couple will still be married 15 years later by observing them for only one hour. Find out how researchers can tell which doctors will get sued and which won’t after only observing 40 seconds of a conversation between doctor and patient. Meet the art historians and scholars who were able to spot an art forgery in seconds after science had “proven” it was authentic.

This ability to discern a great deal from a limited amount of information is known as thin-slicing.

As fascinating as the examples in the book are, what I found most interesting is what it teaches us about our snap judgments. Sometimes they go right (a firefighter who gets his men out of a building seconds before the floor collapses), and sometimes they go wrong (as in the case of the police officers who shot Amadou Diallo, an unarmed man). Why?

More experience, not more information, seems to be the key. Experience educates our snap judgments, and experience helps eliminate the snap judgments that are behind unconscious prejudice, what Gladwell calls “the dark side of rapid cognition.” Through experience we identify signatures that allow us to make accurate evaluations in a short time. Information, especially as we compile more and more of it, tends to obscure these signatures and leads to less accurate evaluations. In many cases, this seems to contradict common sense, but the evidence in Blink is undeniable.

Ultimately, the book’s message is to respect our powers of rapid cognition, to recognize the times thin-slicing serves us and the times it leads us astray. But more than that. Rapid cognition doesn’t need to be a mystery and we victims of it’s whim. We can educate our snap judgments, and thereby learn to control them.

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