Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rough thoughts on on Blink 

These are just my quick thoughts on Blink. Yes, the book has been out for ages, but I had to read it for a psych class, and write a response paper, and I wanted to share some rough thoughts.

It seems to me the book says that you can make accurate quick judgements except when you can't. Compare the judgement of the kouros to the shooting of Diallo. All these people had gut instincts that a particular kouros (a kind of ancient Greek statue) was a forgery, the museum wouldn't listen, until finally it did, and gut instincts were proven right. A bunch of police officers were facing off with Amidou Diallo at night with poor visibility, he put his hand in his pocket and took out something, and they fired their guns, expecting an attack and preemptively shooting to stop (and ultimately kill). He was reaching for a wallet, and he meant them no harm, and their quick instinct to shoot was wrong. Gut instinct was wrong. If the book were simply observing these quick judgements, that would be one thing, but I feel like the book is encouraging quick judgement without adequate support for why quick judgments are better than longer judgements. Actually, I feel like the book isn't really suggesting anything at all (but I feel that way about a lot of pop psych books).

What kind of decisions can be made rapidly? Not decisions we would call instinctual, like face reading or determining a proper course of self defense. Not decisions requiring education, like identifying kouroses (koura?) or predicting tennis matches. People well trained in Greek art can identify forgeries, and tennis experts can predict the outcome of tennis matches, but the rest of us can't. Gladwell doesn't offer rules for when blink decisions can happen accurately.

A quick decision requires context, and I don't think Gladwell gives that proper attention. Of course the self-selected tennis coach can predict double faults (and though Gladwell doesn't say, I assume most of the rest of us can't). That's what he does! He does tennis! He's buried in tennis. Show me a bedroom with an automatic rifle in it. If we're in Switzerland, then we're seeing a typical house. If we're in DC, the rifle is probably in the city illegally. Walk through my house, and you'll find an opium pipe (legal disclaimer: it was inherited from a family member who collected Asian antiques and imported when the importation of ivory was legal). Am I a druggie or do I have a family that collects antiques and ivory?

When talking about thin slices, the tiny bit of information used to make quick decisions, I'm never sure whether he advocates face to face first impressions or "Scan the Apartment or House" first impressions in terms of getting to know someone.

He talks about the problems of presidential elections, calling it the "Warren Harding Problem." How much data should be available to the electorate? A lot has been made of the debate between Nixon and Kennedy - people who saw the debate on TV thought Kennedy did better, while people who heard the debate on radio thought Nixon did better. Gladwell got so close to the question, "Does presidential performance correlate with how much the public knows about the president?" but never actually asks it. I'd love to know. Have presidents gotten less intelligent since the advent of TV? Have they gotten worse as leaders? They seem to have gotten more attractive, more handsome. But where's the data?

I guess my biggest problem with this book is that is *is* a pop psych book. I can come up with a million counter examples and anecdotes that go against the book's premise but since I don't have access to the theories the book is built on, IO have nothing to argue against. I just wonder whether there IS something to argue against. Gladwell didn't do any studies; he merely pulled them together.

There's nothing wrong with reducing complexity, but there's the risk of leaving behind impotant data. We're coming into an age where we can handle more data better and faster. Gladwell doesn't seem to anticipate the huge influx of data that is coming. How do we decide which data are important and which aren't? And what's the definition of we: media, individuals, psychologists, voters, consumers?

Excellent review of a disappointing shallow book.
Glad to know I wasn't the only one who didn't think the book was "handed down by G-d" like many of my classmates seemed to. Ugh.

As for his thesis: it would have made an intersting magazine article.
"As for his thesis: it would have made an intersting magazine article."

Yeah, a Reader's Digest article. I just wanted to see real hard evidence one way or another. Not, 'thin slicing' is good here, bad here. Blink!

What the heck? There is an answer to 'Blink!' that I haven't had the chance to read yet called 'Think'. Maybe that will be better. Have you heard of it?
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