Blink (book)

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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking  
The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Author Malcolm Gladwell
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) Psychology, Popular Psychology
Publisher Back Bay Books, Little, Brown
Publication date January 11, 2005
Media type print (hardback & paperback) & audiobook
Pages 320 p. (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-316-17232-4 & ISBN 0-316-01066-9 (paperback edition)
Preceded by The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, 2000

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is a 2005 book by Malcolm Gladwell, in which he explores the power of the trained mind to make split second decisions.


[edit] Summary

The author describes the main subject of his book as "thin-slicing": our ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. In other words, spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones. Gladwell draws on examples from science, advertising, sales, medicine, and popular music to reinforce his ideas. Gladwell also uses many examples of regular people's experiences with "thin-slicing."

Gladwell explains how an expert's ability to "thin slice" can be corrupted by their likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes (even unconscious ones), and how they can be overloaded by too much information. Gladwell also tells us about our instinctive ability to mind read, which is how we can get to know what emotions a person is feeling just by looking at his or her face. He informs us that with experience, we can become masters at the game of "thin slicing".

Gladwell maintains that we "blink" when we think without thinking. We do that by "thin-slicing," using limited information to come to our conclusion. In what Gladwell contends is an age of information overload, he finds that experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis. Essentially, a thin slice is a snapshot judgment.

Gladwell addresses the questions about thin-slicing and gives a wide range of examples of blinking from the worlds of experts in gambling, speed dating, tennis, military war games, the movies, malpractice suits, popular music, and predicting divorce. Interspersed are accounts of scientific studies that partially, but never completely, explain the largely unconscious phenomenon that we have all experienced at one time or another in our lives.

Gladwell also mentions that sometimes having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment, or a doctor's diagnosis. The challenge is to identify and focus on only the most significant information. The other information could be just noise and can confuse the decision maker. Collecting more and more information, in most cases, just reinforces our judgment but does not help to make it more accurate. He explains that better judgments can be executed from simplicity and frugality of information, rather than the more common belief that greater information about a patient is proportional to an improved diagnosis.

The book shows that how we blink is a function of our experiences, training, and knowledge. For example, Gladwell claims that prejudice is so unconsciously woven into our society that, despite intentions, it can affect our blinks. Gladwell suggests this is why tall people are frequently seen as natural leaders. And, in the case of the Amadou Diallo killing in 1999, Gladwell claims it is why four policemen incorrectly thin-sliced a situation and wound up shooting an innocent man 41 times by mistake.[1]

[edit] Research and Examples

  • A researcher tells the story of a firefighter in Cleveland who answered a routine call with his men. It was in a kitchen in the back of a one-story house in a residential neighborhood. The firefighters broke down the door, laid down their hose, and began dousing the fire with water. It should have abated, but it did not. As the fire lieutenant recalls, he suddenly thought to himself, "There's something wrong here," and he immediately ordered his men out. Moments after they fled, the floor they had been standing on collapsed. The fire had been in the basement, not the kitchen as it appeared. When asked how he knew to get out, the fireman thought it was ESP. What is interesting to Gladwell is that the fireman could not immediately explain how he knew to get out. From what Gladwell calls "the locked box" in our brains, our fireman just "blinked" and made the right decision. In fact, if the fireman had deliberated on the facts he was seeing, he would have likely lost his life and the lives of his men.
  • The book begins with the story of the Getty kouros, which was a statue brought to the J. Paul Getty Museum in California. It was proved by many experts to be legitimate, but when people first looked at it, their initial responses said something was not right. For example, George Despinis, head of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, said "Anyone who has ever seen a sculpture coming out of the ground could tell that that thing has never been in the ground". Later is was proved that these experts "blink moment" was correct. The statue was a fake.
  • John Gottman is a researcher well known for his work on marital relationships. His work is explored in Blink. After analyzing a normal conversation between a husband a wife, Gottman can predict whether that couple will be married in 15 years with 95% accuracy. If he only analyzes them for 15 minutes, his accurary reduces to 90%. This is one example of when "thin slicing" works.[2]

[edit] Criticism and reception

Richard Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, argues that Gladwell in Blink fails to follow his own recommendations regarding thin-slicing, and makes a variety of unsupported assumptions and mistakes in his characterizations of the evidence for his thesis.[3]

The metaphor "a blink of the eye" for intuition is not original to Malcolm Gladwell. Lois Isenman divided intuition into two parts, rapid thought-like unconscious cognition (what Gladwell calls "thinking without thinking") and intuition proper, in an 1997 article. She characterized them both with the metaphor "a blink of the eye," which came to her in an unusual experience (page 4). The publisher refused Isenman's request to cite her article in the paperback version of Blink. [4]

Joshua Correll, a University of Chicago professor renowned for his research on racial bias, stereotyping, and prejudice,[5] taught a class on Blink (Course Number: PSYC 24500). The course description read as follows:

"This small seminar is a reading and discussion of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which addresses a variety of psychological topics (e.g., impression formation, close relationships, racial bias). Each week we compare sections of this book to the experimental literature on which they draw, critically considering Psychology (sscd) 475 these diverse areas of academic research and issues involved in communicating such work to the general public." [6]

"You can't judge a book by its cover. But Gladwell had me at hello — and kept me hooked to the final page." Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

"The book features the fascinating case studies, skilled interweavings of psychological experiments and explanations and unexpected connections among disparate phenomenon that are Gladwell's impressive trademark." Howard Gardner, The Washington Post

"If you want to trust my snap judgment, buy this book: you'll be delighted. If you want to trust my more reflective second judgment, buy it: you'll be delighted but frustrated, troubled and left wanting more." David Brooks, New York Times Sunday Book Review

"Mr. Gladwell is a gifted storyteller, able to find memorable characters and delightful anecdotes wherever he goes. But for much of the book, he struggles to figure out what he really wants to say." George Anders, Wall Street Journal

"Smart, provocative but slippery... Too much of "Blink" reads like a longish string of features from the New Yorker." David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle

"As a researcher, Gladwell doesn't break much new ground. But he's talented at popularizing others' research. He's a clever storyteller who synthesizes and translates the work of psychologists, market researchers and criminologists." Bob Minzesheime, USA Today

[edit] Film

Writer and director Stephen Gaghan is to adapt the book into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which is set to come out in 2009. The main character (DiCaprio) has a special gift to read people's faces and body language. He uses this ability in the corporate world but ends up helping his rich father win a lawsuit by observing potential judges in the case.[7]

[edit] Topics mentioned in Blink

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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