Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Friday, June 30, 2006

Thoughts on "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell

I listened to the audiotape of "Blink" this week at work, as read by the author. It was a fascinating book and brought up a lot of novel ideas. It did have the feeling of an academic piece and, as such, I got to about half-way through the book and began wondering why Gladwell was still defending his main point and negating counter-arguments when I was already convinced. Additionally the presentation of information did little to offer any sort of practical application. But then maybe I've just read too many self help books and watched too many American "happy ending" movies and believe things should have a point AND a purpose.

But I did come away from "Blink" with some theories of my own and ideas of how the concepts presented can be combined with others to become "useful"

First let me review some of the things I found most interesting in "Blink"--the basic idea of the book is that rapid cognition, or the quick, unconscious thinking that goes on in the first second we see, hear, or think about something is far more important than we realize and is often more important than the long, drawn out thought process. He points to many examples of how this process works and how it can have positive or negative effects.

I found a couple of the psychological studies he referenced as particularly interesting. The first was one in which people were asked to categorize things by looking at words. For instance words like: Jane, Tom, Jerry, Amy, JoAnne were to be put into the two categories for Man and Woman. Then categories were combined, having Woman or Family as one category and Man or Career as another and participants were asked to put a series of words into the proper categories. The pairings were then switched and the test repeated. Their answers were timed down to a fraction of a second, and it was found (unsurprisingly to me at least) that people had an easier and quicker time putting Man & Career and Woman & Family together than when Man&Family and Woman&Career were paired. This study showed a bias towards males and careers and towards women & families.

This test could be repeated with many pairings and it was; in the tests that paired African American, White, Good, and Bad it was found that almost all the people tested of many racial backgrounds had a bias towards white/good, black/bad. These tests could be repeated over and over again and even when trying to purposefully bias the test towards the opposite, one would get the same results over and over again. The author said he knew several people who would take it everyday and only ONCE had he heard of someone changing their results; the student said the only thing he could think of that could have made his results change was that he had spent the morning watching Olympic track & field events (where generally the bias is towards blacks doing better).

This brings me to the second set of studies I found interesting: Priming.... more later

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