Book Review: Blink

“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell presents research on psychology and the split second decisions that people make with their adaptive unconscious. He describes it as our ability to “thin-slice,” or to gauge what is important from a short period of time. He uses numerous examples and studies to highlight his hypotheses such as one with a gambling game. Someone presented with two cards, one that has a steady state of returns and one with higher returns but massive losses that outweigh the returns. The players realize how the game works after having drawn about sixty cards, but due to our adaptive unconscious and our ability to “thin-slice” our body responds to the cards and unconsciously people modify their behavior after as little as ten cards.

Gladwell also says that sometimes having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment. The challenge is to sift through all the data and focus solely on the critical information to make a decision. He uses examples of doctors’ diagnosis and how sometimes having less information to consider can lead to better results.

Another example involves Paul Ekmam, a psychologist who created the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), that indicates that our ability to understand facial expressions comes from “thin slicing” and can be done within seconds of unconsciously analyzing a person’s micro expression. This research involved looking at autistic patients, and how their lack of adaptive unconscious hinders social interaction. Instead autistic patients generally associate faces as the same as objects such as a light or microwave.

“Blink” received harsh criticism from American judge Richard Posner, who argued that Gladwell makes unsupported assumptions and mistakes in his characterizations of the evidence for “thin-slicing.” Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman also said, “Malcolm Gladwell definitely created in the public arenas the impression that intuition is magical… That belief is false.”

The book highlights recent research and a new idea that in our era of informational overload our ability to subconsciously determine what is important is incredible but imperfect. Malcolm Gladwell says that learning to control our adaptive unconscious can lead to better decision making and highly efficient systems. “Blink” is a great book for anyone interested in psychology and improving split-second decision making.

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