University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Summer Reading Study Guide and Assignment 2011

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

By Malcolm Gladwell

Introduction to Project Goals

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMD) summer reading project is an important link to your coming academic experience.  In an effort to help you transition from high school to college we are asking that you carefully read the six goals outlined below, the study guide introduction, and then begin reading the assigned book. Please read the study questions prior to reading each chapter as you will need to take notes and ultimately choose a focus for your written response.  Blink was chosen to help you understand the kinds of decisions you will be making next fall and the commitment to scholarship that will be expected from you. This guide outlines the project with assignments to help you understand the reading and then asks you to write a final project to be handed in to your book discussion leader on Tuesday, September 6th. (This date is incorrectly listed as September 1st in the hard copy Reader’s (Study) guide.)

You will need to actively read Blink—that means that you must read with a pen in your hand and make margin notes or get a notebook to write your first impressions of the material as you read. As an active reader you have the opportunity to write a first impression once, only once, so it is very important that you actively take notes of your reaction to the material as you go along.  (People new to this sort of reading may find it hard to come up with a comment for every paragraph and/or page they read—we recommend underlining and summarizing—in one or two words—those passages you find yourself liking the most or the least.)   This practice will help you to track how your ideas change as you are exposed to more information and enable you to quickly return to sections that you’d like to write about for the Blink FYE Book Project essay contest.

The study guide asks questions to help you engage with each section of the book. After reading the book, please complete the essay assignment. The assignment is designed to help you to build the skills and understand the expectations of your professors in order to help you succeed in the university environment. Your essay will also be read and scored by members of the UMD community. Essays identified as the strongest will continue on to a final round where you and your peers will vote on your favorites (or the “best” of the best). The authors of the essays with the most votes will receive prizes and recognition from the Provost’s office for their work.

Project Goals

1. New students understand academic requirements

In college, you won’t always get a study guide, and you won’t always have someone checking to see if you have done the assigned work.  You won’t always discuss all the reading homework in class, but you will be expected to know the material.  You are going to have to rely on yourself to get the job done.  For this project you are being eased into the academic requirements at UMD through orientation, this study guide, online resources and the UMD summer reading blog, as well as small group discussions at convocation, and in-class assignments in ENL 101.  For more information on academic standards, see the student handbook:

The Reading & Writing Center offers free peer tutoring to help you develop your ideas into university level work. Details available at


2. Students introduced to learning communities

Whether you plan to live on campus or commute, the UMD community will be an essential part of your life for the next four years and the impact of your involvement will resonate for the rest of your life.  Whether you like this book or not, it will be a bridge to discussions with new friends, classmates and teachers, so make sure you are ready to discuss it when you arrive this fall.  Whatever you feel about this book it will change the way you think and will help you challenge assumptions as you engage with the many levels of community here at UMD.  Have you visited the homepage for your major yet? If you don’t have a major, why not consider your options? See the UMD website and read the academic requirements for different majors:


3. Students get a sense of civic engagement and commitment

In your past, you may have opted out of some required reading or activity. However, in this next phase of your life, you must remember that no one is forcing you to be here.   You are an adult.  You or someone in your life is paying a lot of money (tuition) for you to be a part of this community. You must take responsibility for your own education and reach out to all the opportunities available to you here. To see opportunities available to you on campus (clubs, student organizations, etc.), visit the UMD website:

4. New students are empowered to make decisions

Many of you are going to be free of supervision for the first time in your life. As a result, you will have many decisions to make which will have a real impact on your performance and your commitment to this school and your education. There will be a difficult and bewildering set of choices and distractions before you. Decisions are tough and have consequences.  Some examples: To skip or not to skip? To party or not to party?  Which activity is best for me?  Should I do my homework or “borrow” from someone?  You will have to deal with a lot of choices as you make the transition from high school into college. This book will help you to understand the way you make decisions and help you make better ones.  For additional help with the transition to adult decisions and consequences, visit the UMD counseling center, details available at:

5. Students learn how to communicate with faculty/staff/peers

A learning community is a place where differences in opinion are valued. The summer reading blog is your first opportunity to converse with peers and faculty. Some of you have already experienced blogs, while for others the conversation online will be entirely new.  You should feel comfortable voicing your opinion; however, there are a few things you should consider as you enter the conversation:

  • No email/text speak; use standard grammar and mechanics
  • Disagreements are about ideas—don’t attack the person
  • Keep an open mind; be willing to expand your ideas by listening to what others have to say

Start strong: read the book, consider the questions in this study guide, post a minimum of two responses on the UMD blog, and be prepared to actively claim your education this fall.  The blog can be accessed at:


6. Students take ownership for social responsibilities/experience

College is a great experience and the beginning of a new life for each of you.  Once you arrive, you can become who ever want.  Don’t miss the opportunity to take control of your future.

Read about Graduation 2011 here:

Questions to Guide Your Reading

NOTE:  These questions are designed to be answered as you complete each chapter.


INTRODUCTION: The Statue That Didn’t Look Right (3-17)

Before you Read: You need to know who is talking and why the writer cares about his subject—it will help you understand Gladwell’s purpose and engage with the book. Think of this as a conversation you’re starting with the author.  He started his book because he had a question he wanted answered – do you have any?

After Reading: On pages 14 – 15 Gladwell outlines three main tasks for the book:

1. “The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately” (14).

2. “When should we trust our instincts, and when should we be wary of them? Answering that question is the second task of Blink” (15).

3. The third and most important task of this book is to convince you that our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled” (15).

Which of the three tasks do you find most intriguing? Why? Can you use an example from your life to explain your answer?

CHAPTER ONE: The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way (18-47)

Before you Read:  Gladwell defines “thin slicing” on page 23 and he uses the example of marriage – as you read, consider other social relationships that fit into the frame of his thesis (his main point).


After Reading: You must thin slice in order to survive. You have to make certain choices without a lot of time to sort through information. Gladwell uses many examples of thin slicing in this chapter, including dorm rooms where students had 15 minutes to observe. “They came at the question [of what type of person lives in the room] sideways, using the indirect evidence of the students’ dorm rooms, and their decision-making process was simplified: they weren’t distracted at all by the kind of confusion, irrelevant information that comes from a face-to-face encounter” (39).

When you arrive on campus you will make new friends and snap judgments. You knew how you fit in (or not) in high school, but at UMD you’ll have a choice to find a new way. Do you think you might use the ideas from this chapter to help you find new friends this fall? This is a high-stakes situation: the friends you select will impact your success as a college student. What traits do you value in the people who surround you? Why?

If you will be living on campus, how do you plan to set up your room?  What matters to you?  Books/Music/Posters/Technology?  What does this say about you to others as they thin slice you?

CHAPTER TWO: The Locked Door: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions (48-71)

Before you Read: Think about how you are susceptible to outside influences. What kinds of friends do you have?


After Reading: The locked door effect describes how we are susceptible to outside influences.  Are your choices based on stereotypes or initial shared experiences? On page 55 Gladwell talks about “priming.” How can you get into a “smart” frame of mind (56-57)? How might the friends you make influence your frame of mind?


CHAPTER THREE:  The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall For Tall, Dark, and Handsome Men (72-98)

Before you Read:  Gladwell relies on three types of experts in this chapter: history, psychology, and sales.  Which do you think will be more persuasive for you?


After Reading:  PART 1: This chapter introduces the work of psychologists studying the role that “unconscious—or, as they like to call them, implicit—associations play in our beliefs and behavior” (77). They study these unconscious biases by using the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Go to the test website at: Click on “Demonstration” and “Go to the Demonstration Tests.” Take one of the tests. There are many different tests so think about the kinds of bias that interest you before you select one, then try to predict how you think you will do.


PART 2: After taking the test, consider your results. The research shows that we have many unconscious biases that impact our ability to trust our instincts and thin slice effectively. The good news is “we can alter the way we thin slice—by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions” (97).  Can you share an experience where you might try to change by trying to change your bias? How might you change your “implicit” reaction to your life experience to have a more balanced reaction?  HINT: Take more than one test if you have trouble identifying a bias and look at what Gladwell says about changing your environment at the end of the chapter.

CHAPTER FOUR: Paul Van Riper’s Big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity (99-146)

Before you Read: How are you at improvisation?  Do you rely on firm data before making a change?  Annotate your response to the puzzles from pages 120 – 121.


After Reading: This chapter talks about the relationship between structure and spontaneity and how information overload can impede insight. Gladwell uses very different examples (war games, comedy improvisation, psychologists’ tests, hospital ER). Of the four examples in this chapter, which one is most memorable for you? Why?  Be specific and make a connection to your life experience if you can.  Use your life, your expertise, and your character to explain why your choice is the most persuasive for you.

CHAPTER FIVE: Kenna’s Dilemma: The Right—and Wrong—Way to Ask People What they Want (147-188)

Before you Read:  This chapter suggests “it is really only experts who are able to reliably account for their reactions” (179). Do you think this is true? Are you able to explain and justify your thin slicing?


After Reading:  Now that you’ve read the support for the idea that only experts can explain their reactions, consider how this might impact you. Can you think of a situation when you just knew something, but couldn’t really explain why? In other words, in what areas do you consider yourself an expert? Why? As you consider a major, think about how what you will learn will heighten your expertise. Are you choosing a major you already know a lot about or one that you are excited to learn more about (or both?).


CHAPTER SIX: Seven Seconds in the Bronx: The Delicate Art of Mind Reading (189-244)

Before you Read:  Do you know what it is to stereotype someone?  Are you aware of others in your life who stereotype? Do you?

Think about facial expressions – some people look cranky and others look happy. What about you?  Do you know?

After Reading: Consider the myriad choices coming before you in the next year. Do you know how arousal and excitement affect your ability to make good decisions? (See page 229 where Gladwell writes, “arousal leaves us mind blind.”) Can you consider a time where you rushed into a situation without thought because your brakes were off?  Do you have a plan for the next months or are you like water being pushed downstream by the other water behind you?  Can you slow the process down in moments of stress (page 241 “stretch the moment in time”)?  Can you take shelter behind a rock in the stream in a back eddy and consider your choices?  How might an ability to consider the broader implications of a behavior or choice impact your experience at UMD?

CONCLUSION: Listening With Your Eyes: The Lessons of Blink (245-254)

Before you Read: What do you think it means to listen with your eyes?


After Reading: This chapter uses classical music auditions to demonstrate how “we are often careless with our powers of rapid cognition. We don’t know where our powers come from or precisely what they mean” (252). As a result, in the classical music example auditions that should be judged solely on musical ability are clouded by listening with your eyes. Can you think of an example from your life where you were judged based on irrelevant data? Paint a vivid picture of the incident so we can see what you saw and feel what you felt. Why do you think the person who judged you wrongly was swayed by irrelevant information?


AFTERWORD (255-276)

Before you Read: What did you learn from reading Blink?


After Reading: Gladwell lists three main lessons from Blink:

1. “From experience, we gain a powerful gift, the ability to act instinctively, in the moment. But—and this is one of the lessons I tried very hard to impart in Blink—it is easy to disrupt this gift” (262).

2. “Understanding the true nature of instinctive decision making requires us to be forgiving of those people trapped in circumstances where good judgment is imperiled” (262-263).

3. There are “unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding” (264).

Gladwell explains, “the key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding” (265). How might you use these ideas to help you be successful as a college student this fall? How will you bridge the gap between learning (gathering information and knowledge) and applying what you learn (understanding)?

“It is not enough to have a good mind.

The main thing is to use it well.”  —Rene Descartes

Works Cited

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. Print.

Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. Print