In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcom Gladwell explores the psychology behind decision making and its correlation with our subconscious biases. Gladwell incorporates scientific studies and findings with a series of stories about judging by first impressions to help the reader understand why we make these decisions before taking the time to carefully consider the facts.
Have you ever had a feeling that you just couldn’t explain? You might have met someone and instantly known to, or not to, trust them. Or maybe you took a different way home because you had a bad feeling about a certain street. Well, according to Malcolm Gladwell, not only is this subconscious snap judgement completely valid, it’s also often superior to our methodical decision-making skills.
The seemingly insignificant details we first notice about a person, thing, or situation, is a “thin slice” of what we know about them or it, and subconsciously becomes the basis of our decision, otherwise known as thin slicing.
Most of us aren’t even able to explain our subconscious decisions when asked for the reasoning behind them. Gladwell uses an example of speed dating where participants are first asked to list what they’re looking for in a partner, but end up selecting dates who don’t even come close to matching their previous descriptions. The participants are unable to explain why they intuitively felt attracted to their dates.
Our Subconscious and Our Intuition
Gladwell argues that in most cases, this intuition is good, but can sometimes lead us to poor outcomes (he uses the example of Warren Harding, who was elected president because he “looked presidential,” but is noted as one of the worst presidents in American history). So, while our gut feeling is often right, we need to be careful not to allow our subconscious opinions (surrounding appearances) skew our initial perception.
The most important takeaway from Blink is not the idea that our snap judgements are often more accurate than our thought-out ones, but more so the idea that they can sometimes be a result of a subconscious racial, socioeconomic, or appearance-based bias. As important as it is to trust our intuition, it’s also important to question it.