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Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

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Krista Buzolich

Professor Gauss

Sociology 101 TTH 3:30pm

November 30, 2017

Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

        Critical thinking is defined as purposeful, reflective judgment that manifests itself in giving reasoned and fair-minded consideration to the methods, evidence, contexts, conceptualizations, and standards in order to decide what to do and what to believe. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, he explores the psychological processes of both intuition and instinct. He does this through examining the way we make split-decisions and judgements. He also explores how the ability to make us more likely to accurately read a current situation is the same ability that makes us unconsciously racist, sexist, and prejudiced. In his book, Malcolm Gladwell attempts to tells his readers that critical thinking can be done in just a blink of an eye. We have always been told that spending time to gather all the information is better, but is that necessarily true? Blink contains many stories in it where we see that the best choice often comes from a quick-made decision.

        Malcolm Gladwell starts his book with the story a statue purchased by the Getty Museum’s. This state seems to be authentic due to all its’ documentation, but many experts believe that something is just not quite right with it. While the experts that examined the statue for hours thought it was real, those who observed it for only a few seconds, on the other hand, thought it was fake. In the end, test results actually proved that the statue was in deed a fake. Gladwell calls this process of swift intuitive conclusion, “thin slicing.” “Thin slicing” is the unconscious mind’s ability to find patterns and meaning in quick instances. He explains this concept by citing an experiment from a psychologist named John Gottman. After just a few short minutes of listening to a couple’s conversation, Gottman is able to predict the strength of the marriage and whether or not the couple will still be together in fifteen years. Another psychologist by the name of Samuel Gosling is able to guess the personality of college students, with an accurate of ninety-five percent, just by examining their dorm room for no more than fifteen minutes. A person’s closest friends had less accuracy judging their friend’s personality compared to Gosling. All these examples show how experts can work with little information and draw accurate conclusions and predictions from “thin slicing” observations.

        Gladwell also focuses on an idea referred to as “the dark side” of thin-slicing. This refers to the way our unconscious minds lean toward prejudices that influence our conscious decisions. In this section, Gladwell raises the question of whether and to what extent we are guilty for prejudices that we are not consciously aware of. For example, Warren Harding getting elected as the President of the United States. He was not elected president because he was smart or because people liked his thoughts, but because he looked like a president. Even though Harding was not the best fit for the position, he became president due to people making snap decisions about him looking like a president. Our unconscious is the origin of all our prejudiced judgements about people, and that is why our judgements can turn out very wrong. Gladwell also includes an example of a car salesman named Bob Golomb. By training himself to not have bias, Bob Golomb became more successful than all of his other colleagues. Most care salesmen pick and judge their customers based on what they are wearing. There was a test where eighteen white men, seven white women, eight black women, and five black men were told to dress casually before going into the car dealership. While the white men received offers as low as only $725 over the dealer’s invoice and the white women received offers of $935 over the dealer’s invoice, the black women, on the other hand, received an offer of $1,195 above invoice, along with the black men whop received an offer of $1,551. This meant that the black men had to pay the most, while the white men got to pay the least. When reading about car salesmen I found this pretty relatable to my life. A few years ago my parents were looking to by a BMW, so they went to the dealership. As they walked in, no one even attempted to go up and help them. Since they were dressed casually and did not necessarily have the right “look” of someone going to buy a BMW they were ignored. This goes to show how much bias a car salesmen can have while working.

        Another point Gladwell emphasizes is how we place high value on complex, analytical decision-making and low value on intuitive, quick decision-making. When people are faced with situations where they are forced to make decisions based on little information, rapid cognition gives better results than mechanistic, analytical thinking. He draws the attention to a retired Marine Corps officer by the name of Paul Van Riper, who led the underdog “Red Team” to victory in a war game conducted by the U.S. military. Van Riper is praised for his intuitive decision-making in times of urgency, such as on the battlefield. Often at times, we are forced to make on the spot decisions and it can be hard preparing yourself to make these choices under-pressure. It is important to realize that decisions made in chaotic situations can sometimes work better than ones with careful consideration and deliberation. With this being said, Gladwell does not think analytical nor intuitive thinking is good or bad. He points out that in times of chaos, the lesser information available, the better. This is because information overload can lead to delayed decisions, and when under pressure, these delayed decisions are worse than bad decisions.

        Having established that rapid cognition is not always completely accurate, Gladwell continues onto the topic of mind reading. Although not always aware, we often read facial expressions in order to gauge the mindset of others. Gladwell makes note that we are surprisingly  right most of the time. However, we fail to read these signs correctly and often jump to conclusions. Gladwell uses an example of an African immigrant in the Bronx who was gunned down by NYC police outside his own apartment. This explores the idea of “mind-reading” and how people can often misread other people’s facial expressions. Gladwell also includes an example of being “mind-blind.” He uses autistic people as an example because they often have difficulty reading facial expressions and other non-verbal social cues. Although they may be highly intelligent, autistic people do not have the intuitive skills to infer observations. So, while mind-reading allows us to develop our perceptions of the intentions of others, being in a stressful situation, such as a shootout, can make one lose sight of the mind-reading mechanism. This then leads to unconscious decision making, and the person becomes mind-blind.


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