The conscious strategy is the on one we’re most familiar with. We think about what we’ve learned, and eventually we come up with an answer. This strategy is logical and definitive. But it takes us eighty cards to get there. It’s slow, and it needs a lot of information. There’s a second strategy, though. It operates a lot more quickly. It starts to kick in after ten cards, and it’s really smart, because it picks up the problem with the red decks almost immediately. It has the drawback, however, that it operates—at least at first—entirely below the surface of consciousness. It sends its messages through weirdly indirect channels, such as the sweat glands in the palms of our hands. It’s a system in which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that it’s reaching conclusions.
The part of our brain that leaps to conclusions like this is called the adaptive unconscious, and the study of this kind of decision making is one of the most important new fields in psychology.
The new notion of the adaptive unconscious is thought of, instead, as a kind of giant computer that quickly and quietly processes a lot of the data we need in order to keep functioning as human beings.
The adaptive unconscious does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people in danger, setting goals, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner.
I think that we are innately suspicious of this kind of rapid cognition. We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it.
Decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.
Our unconscious is a powerful force. But it’s fallible. It’s not the case that our internal computer always shine through, instantly decoding the “truth” of a situation. It can be thrown off, distracted, and disabled. Our instinctive reactions often have to compete with all kinds of other interests and emotions and sentiments.
When it comes to the task of understanding ourselves and our world, I think we pay too much attention to those grand themes and too little to the particulars of those fleeting moments.
The task of making sense of ourselves and our behavior requires that we acknowledge there can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.
“Thin-Slicing” refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experiences.
He can find out much of what he need to know just be focusing on what he calls the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. In fact, there is one emotion that he considers the most important of all: contempt. If he observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward the other, he considers it the single most important sign that the marriage is in trouble.
The Big Five Inventory:
Extraversion: Are you sociable or retiring? Fun-loving or reserved?
Agreeableness: Are you trusting or suspicious? Helpful or uncooperative?
Conscientiousness: Are you organized or disorganized? Self-disciplined or weak willed?
Emotional Stability: Are you worried or calm? Insecure or secure?
Openness to new experiences: Are you imaginative or down-to-earth? Independent or conforming?
A person’s bedroom give three kinds of clues to his or her personality. There are, first of all, identity claims, which are deliberate expressions about how we would like to be seen by the world. Then there is behavioral residue, which is defined as the inadvertent clues we leave behind. Finally, there are thoughts and feelings regulators, which are changes we make to our most personal spaces to affect the way we feel when we inhabit them.
In order to make somebody laugh, you have to be interesting, and in order to be interesting, you have to do things that are mean. Comedy comes out of anger, and interesting comes out of angry; otherwise there is no conflict.
Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way.
We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that—sometimes—we’re better off that way.
The results from these experiments are, obviously, quite disturbing. They suggest that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act—and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment—are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.
We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.
We make connections much more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds than we do between pairs of ideas that are unfamiliar to us.
First of all, we have our conscious attitudes. This is what we choose to believe. These are our stated values, which we use to direct our behavior deliberately.
Our second level of attitude, our racial attitude on an unconscious level—the immediate, automatic associations that tumble out before we’ve even had time to think.
We have a sense of what a leader is supposed to look like, and that stereotype is so powerful that when someone fits it, we simply become blind to other considerations.
Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions—we can alter the way we thin-slice—by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions.