What is behind the split decisions that we make all the time? What mental processes go behind our first impressions and our snap judgments?
Malcolm Gladwell, the best selling author of The Tipping Point, explores these questions in his challenging book Blink. Gladwell draws from a fascinating array of stories of people who rely on their first impressions—art critics able to identify a supposedly ancient Greek statue as a fraud in mere seconds, a psychologist who is able to predict whether or not a married couple will stay married after a single session, and a tennis coach who developed the ability to predict when one of his players was about to double-fault.
What do all of these people have in common? According to Gladwell, these people all have the ability to “thin-slice.” Thin-slicing is the ability to draw conclusions by looking at a small piece of data—the moment takes to form a first impression. Thin-slicing is a survival skill, our nervous system is constantly taking in overwhelming volumes of information and “thin-slicing” is how we quickly make sense of that data.
Gladwell respects the dangers of our ability to process information quickly. In Chapter Three: “The Warren Harding Error”, we find that our thin-slicing has a dark side. Gladwell points out that inherit in thin-slicing is a susceptibility to fall victim to the power of stereotyping. We meet Warren Harding, who is widely recognized as one of the worst presidents in our history. Why did voters place him in office, in spite of his lack of qualifications? Thin-slicing. Harding was tall, handsome and looked the part of a leader. This chapter points out how thin-slicing is related to racial stereotyping.
What are we to do with this new-found knowledge that we “thin-slice?” Gladwell suggest that while we can’t stop thin-slicing, we can train ourselves to pay attention pertinent factors– factors that will help us make accurate and valuable decisions in a blink.
Gladwell has given us a brilliant read that entertains and informs. Gladwell effortless delivered a lesson in neuroscience to his readers. However there’s nothing “textbook” like about Blink. Blink is a compelling, fast-paced read that is sure to get you thinking about how you think.
Questions for children's ministers: — How can "thin slicing" get in the way of our abililty to truly welcome visitors or identity potential volunteers? — What criteria can you use to accurately evaluate the health of a classroom in seconds? Smiling children? Noise Level? The presence of discussion?