Blink (2005) by Malcolm Gladwell is a popular science/ psychology book about a feeling. Not just any feeling, but the feeling that kicks in even before a hunch. It’s in your sweat glands and your blood pressure, and it informs your decisions without you realizing. It’s fast and frugal and comes from the adaptive unconscious – the part of brain that’s extremely popular in psychology.
“The only way that human beings could ever have survived as a species for as long as we have is that we’ve developed another kind of decision-making apparatus that’s capable of making very quick judgements based on very little information”
Gladwell explains how we use that quick judgement whenever we meet someone for the first time, whenever we interview anyone – that’s why first impressions are important. But this spidey sense can also fail us – it can be clouded by words that precede the decision (spoken or read by ourselves or others), by other emotions and more.
“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis”
In decision making the two ways to decide is with thick slice vs thin slice – how much information we need to make a decision. Gladwell claims we can train this instinct and call upon it.
In this day and age especially, we love gorging on information – the more choices, the better. The more details, the better. But we actually need to be frugal to be able to make snap decisions. It’s really interesting and Gladwell wrote clearly. But… This book is two chapters longer than it needs to be. He provided interesting stories but it was really just a collection of anecdotes. He did try tying the theory together throughout and analyse his ‘examples’ but it really just felt like a bunch of stories. It felt very much like a long journal article, and it makes sense that he’s a New York Times author. I kinda wish he went a bit deeper. His idea was supporting the stories instead of stories supporting the idea. The stories took over.
“Anyone who has ever scanned the bookshelves of a new girlfriend or boyfriend – or peeked inside his or her medicine cabinet – understands this implicitly: you can learn as much – or more – from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to a public face”
Gottman can tell if a marriage can work or not from a random conversation under three minutes – because each relationship has a sort of DNA pattern that is present in all interactions.
Since I’ve been reading so much about race, one part about marriages reminded me of racial relations. The one think that dooms a marriage according to Gottman is the presence of contempt. He describes this emotion as something close to disgust, and that no relationship can survive this because it is hierarchical. It is an attempt to put the other person on a lower rung than you, a different plane and it sort of dehumanises them. “What disgust and contempt are about is completely rejecting and excluding someone from the community”. That’s why racism is so damaging – because it’s one race expressing contempt for another.
“We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for”
The adaptive unconscious is honed and used by bird watchers, basketball coaches, movie producers in the process of casting actors, insurance officers identifying which doctors will get sued for malpractice, tennis coaches predicting serves and more. Snap judgments are quick and rely on the unconscious but it is fed by all our experiences. I always believe in gut feelings, it’s like magic. I have faith that snap judgments are important. He demystifies the feeling and shows us we can control and hone it. We won’t all get the snap judgement to proclaim a statue is fake, but if we spend our lives studying statues then maybe we will. It is fed by years of knowledge, all of our long-term memories distilled into a tiny reactive thought.
“”We are capable of extraordinary leaps of insight and instinct. We can hold a face in memory, and we can solve a puzzle in a flash. But… all these abilities are incredibly fragile”
One story about autism was my favourite. Another story involving the police part got me all riled up and he didn’t do anything with my riled up feelings. He just left them there to broil. He also used a poor choice of words in this story. It wasn’t the best choice for him to talk about white officers killing an innocent black man and then using the conceptual term “white space” – saying the officers didn’t have enough “white space” to make the right call. Even thought the concept doesn’t have anything to do with race it just feels like a not great time to introduce and use that concept lol. Not the best terminology in context.
It also doesn’t feel great for him to say we can get temporary autism? IDK it didn’t feel right even though I understood his point.
It’s a fun fast read for those who are interested in human behaviour.