Blink (book)

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking  
The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Author(s) 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)
OCLC Number 55679231
Dewey Decimal 153.4/4 22
LC Classification BF448 .G53 2005
Preceded by The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, 2000
Followed by Outliers: The Story of Success, 2008

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is a 2005 book by Malcolm Gladwell. It presents in popular science format research from psychology and behavioral economics on the adaptive unconscious; mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information. It considers both the strengths of the adaptive unconscious, for example in expert judgment, and its pitfalls such as stereotypes.



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, this is an idea that 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. Two particular forms of unconscious bias Gladwell discusses are Implicit Association Tests and psychological priming. 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.

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.

Gladwell gives a wide range of examples of thin-slicing in contexts such as gambling, speed dating, tennis, military war games, the movies, malpractice suits, popular music, and predicting divorce.

Gladwell also mentions that sometimes having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment, or a doctor's diagnosis. This is commonly called "Analysis paralysis." The challenge is to sift through and focus on only the most critical information to make a decision. The other information may be irrelevant and confusing to the decision maker. Collecting more and more information, in most cases, just reinforces our judgment but does not help to make it more accurate. The collection of information is commonly interpreted as confirming a person's initial belief or bias. Gladwell 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. If the big picture is clear enough to decide, then decide from the big picture without using a magnifying glass.

The book argues that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge. For example, Gladwell claims that prejudice can operate at an intuitive unconscious level, even in individuals whose conscious attitudes are not prejudiced. An example is in the halo effect, where a person having a salient positive quality is thought to be superior in other, unrelated respects. Gladwell uses the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo, where four New York policemen shot an innocent man on his doorstep 41 times, as another example of how rapid, intuitive judgment can have disastrous effects.[1]

Research and Examples

  • Gladwell 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 door" 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 experts 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". However, controversy still surrounds the kouros as there is no consensus on whether it is genuine or a forgery. [2]
  • 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 and wife for an hour, Gottman can predict whether that couple will be married in 15 years with 95% accuracy. If he analyzes them for 2 hours, his accuracy diminishes to 90%. This is one example of when "thin slicing" works.[3]
  • The studies of Paul Ekman, a psychologist who created the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), indicates that a lot of “thin slicing” can be done within seconds by unconsciously analyzing a person’s fleeting look called a micro expression. Ekman claims that the face is a rich source of what is going on inside our mind and although many facial expressions can be made voluntarily, our faces are also governed by an involuntary system that automatically expresses our emotions. [4]

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.[5] The Daily Telegraph review writes, "Rarely have such bold claims been advanced on the basis of such flimsy evidence."[6]

In Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye (Simon and Schuster, 2006), Michael LeGault argues that "Blinklike" judgements are not substitute for critical thinking. He criticizes Gladwell for propagating unscientific notions:

As naturopathic medicine taps into a deep mystical yearning to be healed by nature, Blink exploits popular new-age beliefs about the power of the subconscious, intuition, even the paranormal. Blink devotes a significant number of pages to the so-called theory of mind reading. While allowing that mind-reading can "sometimes" go wrong, the book enthusiastically celebrates the apparent success of the practice, despite hosts of scientific tests showing that claims of clairvoyance rarely beat the odds of random chance guessing.[7]


Writer and director Stephen Gaghan is to adapt the book into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which is set to come out in 2011. 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.[8] b

Topics mentioned

See also


External links

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