February 10, 2009
By Ryan Orbach BRONZE, Plano, Texas
Ryan Orbach BRONZE, Plano, Texas
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

The book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is interesting and is recommended to all who study or would like an introduction to the field of cognitive psychology and the subconscious. Unfortunately, it falls short of being the ultimate guide to mind-reading and split-decision making it is billed as. This being said, Gladwell does an excellent job in explaining his intriguing theory of the 'locked door' of the subconscious mind and the promise of the rapid decision-making to be found therein.

Gladwell Begins his book with several very powerful examples and explanations to introduce his thesis of the effectiveness of rapid cognition, more commonly referred to as a gut-instinct, and assess its validity. He gives several highly convincing arguments such as anecdotes of experts who have made insightful observations based solely on a 'thin slice', brief segment, of information such as a curator who immediately identified a forgery of an ancient relic which had fooled hundreds simply by glancing at it or a tennis coach who was immediately able to tell when an athlete would double-fault before the racket even made contact with the ball. Neither of these men was able to explain with any semblance of detail why he could make this assessment aside from his gut instinct. Gladwell Greatly supports his thesis by suggesting that rapid decision making is, rather than an accident, an evolutionary trait. He argues that human beings are born with the ability to instantly make important decisions on the subconscious level due to evolutionary advancement gained by the species long ago to far better chances of survival in wilderness during high pressure situations. This tool was entirely necessary, Malcolm argues, for the survival of humans in order to avoid predators as well as to capture food. In other words, if an ancient man was hungry and spotted a deer he did not have the time necessary to analyze the situation and consciously find a route to sneak up on the prey and then hide because the deer would already have fled and he would starve. Just as well, if a hungry bear were stumbled upon by an ancient woman, she would not have time to assess the situation and determine the bear's sharp teeth and claws and large size were to be feared and she should probably go in the opposite direction, once she reached this conclusion she would probably be observing first hand the bears digestive system. These two situations would both warrant an immediate and intelligent response and the development of rapid cognition, Malcolm would say, was Mother Nature's way of insuring these needs were met.

For all of its merits, Blink has been stated by many a Barnes and Noble bestseller junkie to be the end-all guide to understanding and fully utilizing the instant decision making capabilities each of us is given at birth. However, this is simply not the case. Gladwell makes several points to show with great validity the presence and beneficial nature of rapid cognition but also gives some chilling examples of its cons. When tales of police brutality, marketing ploys, and racism are exposed as results of 'thinking without thinking' the desire to follow gut-instinct in most situations is diminished by a significant degree. The downfall of quick decision making is still held constant with that of conscious decision making, a conclusion be far from the truth. The vast majority of the anecdotes in favor of this semi-super-power are given by experts in a field who have high levels of experience and training to help steer the immediate thought in a direction which is far more beneficial to the man or woman in need. Unfortunately, experience not the sole influence on one's initial reaction to a situation. In the case of racism, very few would out'and-out declare his or herself a racist. However, a Harvard study of immediate correlations called the 'Race IAT' would show otherwise. Malcolm uses the study in one chapter of his argument to describe the negative sides of instant decision-making while it warrants far more emphasis. In this study a giant margin erred on the side of 'racists' by showing an instant correlation between African Americans and evil or bad while seeing Caucasians far more as good (This was not different for African American subjects). The study was surprising especially to Gladwell, who is half black, because he showed a strong association with Caucasians and saw, subconsciously, black as being 'evil'. This is not necessarily an association people are born with but could very well be taught to us through repetition by media and advertising. Living in a predominantly white society is bound to give us a few subconscious bigotries regardless of race. Advertising firms have pushed their agendas upon each viewer of any medium of pop culture and have therefore gained some control over much of our subconscious decision making process. Malcolm showed several studies in which food companies would market identical products in different ways such as yellow margarine instead of white and reach far different results in terms of taste, even though the product itself was unchanged. Is this not perfect evidence of the simple manipulation possible of the human subconscious decision-making process? The most frightening example of all is a story of police brutality in which police mistakenly fired 41 shots on an unarmed, innocent, African American man due to the reliance on a gut instinct. Amadou Diallo was sitting silently on a porch in the Bronx when he was approached by two police officers for suspicious behavior. The officers were unaware that Diallo was not dangerous but was frightened of the police due to previous experience. The cops gave chase and when Diallo stopped to pull out his wallet the policemen, in fear and from previous expectations, fired 41 shots at the defenseless man killing him. When the two men realized Diallo had only a wallet in his hand they were at first in disbelief then one began to cry. This terrifying example of rapid cognition gone awry shows that relying solely on instinct can not only be a mistake but could be a fatal error. These flaws show the downside of following unconscious thought and make it very apparent that it is not something to be seen as absolute truth.

The book Blink by Gladwell is doubtlessly an interesting subject to be viewed but should not be taken as absolute truth and if followed should be used with caution. This makes the thesis of Blink, although interesting, far less than the powerful manual to 'using your gut' in all situations than it is said to be by many a reader and recommender. That being said, the book is to be recommended but read with a degree of skepticism.

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