As I read or re-read sections of this book, looking for things I missed, things I want to engage further and ask questions about, I continue to be fascinated with his concluding premise that “our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled” (15).
At first, he seems to do just the opposite. In chapter one he describes the psychological studies of John Gottman who discovered that he could glean information about much of the health of a relationship by studying a set of facial expressions and attitudes. Gottman proved that this information could be gathered quickly and without knowing any of the actual context of the relationship itself. Gladwell seems to assert that the factors of relationship which are “buffeted by more important things, like money and sex and children and jobs and in-laws, in constantly changing combinations” have less to do with what will actually be the outcome of these unions than we think (20). He asserts that it is the underlying feelings and communication patterns that actually determine success. The results are, in fact, a rather deterministic view of relationships.
Still, Gottman’s study was susceptible to the difficulties that all quantitative research are: accuracy, testing methods and reproducible results. As Laurie Abrahman points out in an excerpt of her book The Husbands and Wives Club on Slate.com, he predicted outcomes retroactively based on known data and that his results could “seem much more robust than they are” (1). Maybe there isn’t one factor or set of factors that can accurately predict if a marriage will work? What do you think? Is it all set in stone?
In chapter three Gladwell continues to outline this premise of eventuality, using the example of the IAT test, this time showing us that there is a dark side to thin-slicing which can lead us to make our snap judgments based on prejudice and stereotypes (76). However, he concludes the chapter with the argument that “we can alter the way we thin-slice—by changing the experiences that compromise those impressions” (97). The next chapter describes people who “confronted the consequences of first impressions and snap judgments” (98).
My questions are, how do we really learn to change the information that underlies our split-second choices? If I come from an environment with little diversity, a strict religious or political background, how can I change my thin-slicing of people who are different than I am? In college you will be encountering lots of new “kinds” of people. How will you choose to interact with them?