Blink: A Book about Rapid Cognition
(excerpts taken from http://www.gladwell.com/index.html)
1. What is "Blink" about?
It's a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.
You could also say that it's a book about intuition, except that I don't like that word. In fact it never appears in "Blink." Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings--thoughts and impressions that don't seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It's thinking--its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with "thinking." In "Blink" I'm trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?
2. How can thinking that takes place so quickly be at all useful? Don't we make the best decisions when we take the time to carefully evaluate all available and relevant information?
Certainly that's what we've always been told. We live in a society dedicated to the idea that we're always better off gathering as much information and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. As children, this lesson is drummed into us again and again: haste makes waste, look before you leap, stop and think. But I don't think this is true. There are lots of situations--particularly at times of high pressure and stress--when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world.
of the stories I tell in "Blink" is about the Emergency Room doctors
surprisingly, it was really hard to convince the physicians at
3. Where did you get the idea for "Blink"?
it or not, it's because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If
you look at the author photo on my last book, "The Tipping Point,"
you'll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a
whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in
very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding
tickets all the time--and I had never gotten any before. I started getting
pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while
twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a
scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding.
African-Americans in the
4. But that's an example of a bad case of thin-slicing. The police officers jumped to a conclusion about you that was wrong. Does "Blink" talk about when rapid cognition goes awry?
That's a big part of the book as well. I'm very interested in figuring out
those kinds of situations where we need to be careful with our powers of rapid
cognition. For instance, I have a chapter where I talk a lot about what it
means for a man to be tall. I called up several hundred of the Fortune 500
companies in the
5. What kind of a book is "Blink"?
used to get that question all the time with "The Tipping Point," and
I never really had a good answer. The best I could come up with was to say that
it was an intellectual adventure story. I would describe "Blink" the
same way. There is a lot of psychology in this book. In fact, the core of the
book is research from a very new and quite extraordinary field in psychology
that hasn't really been written about yet for a general audience. But those
ideas are illustrated using stories from literally every corner of society. In
just the first four chapters, I discuss, among other things: marriage, World
War Two code-breaking, ancient Greek sculpture,
6. What do you want people to take away from "Blink"?
I guess I just want to get people to take rapid cognition seriously. When it comes to something like dating, we all readily admit to the importance of what happens in the first instant when two people meet. But we won't admit to the importance of what happens in the first two seconds when we talk about what happens when someone encounters a new idea, or when we interview someone for a job, or when a military general has to make a decision in the heat of battle.
"The Tipping Point" was concerned with grand themes, with figuring out the rules by which social change happens. "Blink" is quite different. It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives--with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on--and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.
In this excerpt, from the Introduction to "Blink," I describe the part of the brain that runs our rapid decision-making system:
Imagine that I asked you to a play a very simple gambling game. In front of you, are four decks of cards--two red and two blue. Each card in those four decks either wins you a sum of money or costs you some money, and your job is to turn over cards from any of the decks, one at a time, in such a way that maximizes your winnings. What you don't know at the beginning, however, is that the red decks are a minefield. The rewards are high, but when you lose on red, you lose a lot. You can really only win by taking cards from the blue decks, which offer a nice, steady diet of $50 and $100 payoffs. The question is: how long will it take you to figure this out?
A group of scientists at the