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I have always heard the expression, “a first impression is the most important, so make it a good one”, but I never realized what that could actually mean until I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. Gladwell spoke on a topic called thin slicing which he defined as “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experiences.” In other words, it is when we subconsciously make judgments and decisions about or towards people based on observations of them. Our brain essentially breaks down different aspects of a person, whether it is through appearance, actions, or speech, and forms an opinion about the person.
When I had decided to attend UMass Dartmouth, I had joined my class’ Facebook page and began making friends. I was sending out and receiving friend requests from people who seem cool and interesting. I was thin slicing their Facebook just like Samuel Gosling, who did a thin slicing study where people would look through a stranger’s room or dorm and make conclusions about the type of person they are. I made one friend in particular; her page didn’t tell me much. Unknowingly, I was using the “Big Five Inventory” on her page. She seemed to be a private person, she didn’t have many pictures, and her profile information was very basic. When writing posts and comments, her writing style was very proper and correct, no short hand or slang. I thought she would be a shy girl, who’s very into her studies, not that outgoing and social. However that was not the case when I met her. In fact she was very outgoing and easy to talk to; she had a balance of everything.
Facebook is a popular site, especially among teens; it’s our life. We are always checking Facebook and updating our status. I assumed that because she wasn’t very interactive on her Facebook page, that she wasn’t interactive in real life. Often, thin slicing leads us into stereotyping, but as Gladwell has illustrated through the studies done by John Gottman, Samuel Gosling, Harrison and Hooving and others, thin slicing takes practice. It’s natural for our brains to makes these assumptions, but we have to learn how to thin slicing without stereotyping.
Before reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink I knew that we judged other individuals around us based off of personal criticism. It has become an adapted instinct of our lives that we may not even be aware of, but we do it all the time. I used to think that we judged people because of the way our mind reacts in an instant second of meeting somebody new. However, after reading this book I learned that our reactions are not only quick based on instinct, but based on personal experience in something that has already existed in our lives.
One thing that caught my attention while reading Blink was the idea of snap judgments. Although judging without actually knowing who somebody is or what their personal story of life is happens to be wrong, there is no way to control it because the human mind works instantaneously. The way society reacts upon actions by others, determines how citizens within that society are going to interpret something or somebody based on what they already know from past experiences. These predictions that are being made from our own personal past experiences can possibly cause trouble or satisfaction in the long run.
An experience of my own where I was the one to snap judge another individual was in sixth grade. I was in the middle school, so was this girl. This petite, quiet, studious Asian girl. All I knew about her was that she was in my class as I was in hers, and that she lived down the street from me. “She is such a suck up!” I kept thinking to myself. I wanted to be my favorite teacher’s favorite student. However, this was difficult at the time because I was young, competitive, and selfish. Before I knew it, this girl was doing all of the errands for my favorite teacher. I was not happy about this. Two years fly by, I had never held a conversation with this young girl who had been the “teacher’s pet” back in sixth grade. However, when eighth grade rolled around, I was assigned to sit next to this petite, quiet, studious Asian girl in my history class. After about a week or so into school, I began to find myself conversing with her everyday, uncontrollably laughing with her about everything, and walking home from school with her being that she was my next door neighbor. I had judged this girl from her physical appearance because of what I had thought I knew about Asian people in society from the way society had generally treated them. I found out that this petite, quiet, studious Asian girl who was that snobby, stuck up, teacher’s pet was no where near the person that she truly is. She is not quiet, nor snobby, nor stuck up, but she is my best friend.
Malcolm Gladwell quotes Sigmund Freud by saying “when making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons” (Gladwell 268). Let’s just say that pro and con lists are my life line, any decisions that I have made I have made some kind of list whether it be written with pen and paper or just mentally. I use the lists for major and minor decisions. Sigmund Freud said that pro and con lists are good for the minor decisions and “in vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious” (Gladwell 268). The biggest decision that I have had to make so far in my life was choosing where to attend for my undergrad degree. I applied to six prestigious school and was lucky enough to be accepted by all of them. However, this made my decision a bit more daunting. I narrowed my decision down to two schools and of course I put my trust into the pro and con list.
The two schools were very similar on paper. I had visited UMASS Dartmouth twice before and always felt comfortable. I had came down for one more visit before I made my final decision. That day for lunch we were sitting with another family whose student had already decided that she would be attending UMASS Dartmouth in the fall. The family turned to me and asked “Have you decided where you are going to college”, and out of now where I opened my mouth and said “yes…I will be attending UMASS Dartmouth”. My parents looked at me with eyes wide and said “really when were you planning on telling us?” I just knew, the decision came from inside me I opened my mouth and the answer was on the tip of my tongue. For someone who uses pro and con lists for everything, and had made one to decide where I should go to college, it ws unusual that the answer was not on the paper it was inside me. I had made, in Gerd Gigerenzer words quoted by Malcolm Gladwell, a “fast and frugal” decision (Gladwell 11).
Gladwell uses “fast and frugal” to explain why the gamblers and a few people reviewing the kouros knew that something was not right. I had “felt something” (Gladwell 11) and my decision was made, just like the gamblers and the people reviewing the kouros had felt something but could not explain why or what made them make that decision. Gladwell states that “we live in a world that assumes the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it” (Gladwell 13), but I am proof that that is not necessarily true. I was mulling over information for a very long time and could not make a decision, being at UMD that day in April I made a “fast and frugal” decision, and it will hopefully turn out to be a good one.
Blink In Real Life
The term “priming,” referred to in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, refers to an experience that influences a future behavior. Gladwell gives the example of when prompted with words such as “worried,” “old,” “lonely,” “gray,” “bingo,” and “wrinkle,” the participant’s adaptive subconscious will become obsessed with the idea of being older, and will therefore influence the body to act older by walking slowly. Prior to reading Blink, I did not know such a phenomenon existed, but this book provided clarity on details of memories that I have, particularly when I was in the hospital.
About three years ago I was diagnosed with a disorder called Reflex Neurovascular Dystrophy. Reflex Neurovascular Dystrophy affects the nerves that control the blood vessels in my legs by prompting them to begin to close. The treatment for this is to retrain the nerves by providing massive amounts of stimulus. In February of this year I was admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to begin the treatment, which consisted of nine to ten hours of physical and occupational therapy a day. The gym that we were in was separate from all other inpatient physical therapy patients and it was decorated in such a way that there were works on the walls like, “persist,” “persevere,” and “hold on,” among others. It was strange at the time because hospital décor is usually very bland, but after reading Blink it gave value to the words being there. When I wanted to give up something kept me going. My conscious mind was focused on the immensity of the pain I was feeling, but as it seems, my adaptive unconscious was not willing to let my body quit.
At a follow-up appointment at the hospital I contributed my own word to the collage. I chose the word “invictus,” after my favorite poem by William Ernest Henley, meaning “unconquerable.”
Stephanie! Let’s go! My mother screams as she leaves her favorite clothing store. “But why mummy?” I yell back at her running out. My mother was the most upset I had ever seen her at that time and she wasn’t listening to anything I was trying to say, her main objective was getting as far away from that store as possible. When I finally made it to the car my mom explained to me what was happening. She had been accused stealing. I thought that idea was insane. I remember first entering the store and roaming through the aisles, and constantly looking back and some employee would be there just staring at us but I didn’t know why. I would look around to see if it was happening to anybody else, but nope it was just me and my mom. I still had no clue what was going on. I started shopping with my friends and realized that it happened occasionally. When people see a group of black teenagers goofing around and roaming through a store, we all know what goes through the manager’s mind!
In this situation with my mother, the store employee saw two African Americans walking and unconsciously started following us, and anything they thought as suspicious made us guilty; as opposed to everyone else in the store. As I was reading through the summer reading book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, this concept truly caught my attention because I was able to relate to it. Implicit Association has to do with human’s unconscious part of the brain. It’s when we make connections much more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds. It plays with our beliefs and behaviors. In general, society has brainwashed individuals to think a certain way about different races. Usually people associate African Americans with negative things, and whites with more positive things. There’s even a test that Gladwell mentions in his book to prove so, the IAT test. Now, certain people might be so sure they are not stereotypical but after taking this test it creeps them out how much their unconsciousness has power over them. That horrible experience with my mom definitely enabled me to understand the concept of Implicit Association better.
In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell uses many terms to describe the numerous fascinating, split-second processes that the human mind uses to make important decisions. One of these terms is “thin-slicing”, which Gladwell defines as “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.” Based on knowledge gained from previous experiences, the brain is able, in nearly an instant, to subconsciously “gather the necessary information for a sophisticated judgment” (23).
As I read through Blink and saw this term used so frequently to describe many diverse experiences, I constantly found myself connecting the term with personal experiences during my years of playing soccer for my town’s travel team. A common situation stood out to me: one in which I would see a player on the opposing team nearly surrounded by players from my own team. Based on past experiences, I knew that at our level of play, the pressure player would look behind them for support from others on their team and pass it to them to open up the playing field again. However, this train of thought did not occur to me every single time I was faced with this set of circumstances. Each time, as soon as I saw more than one of my team’s players approaching a single opponent with the ball, I knew right away to cut around and get in front of the opponent’s support so that I could intercept the ball after they inevitably panicked and passed it away. Just as Gladwell describes, my brain was tuned to unconsciously gather information from my previous experiences and find the patterns in these seconds-long interactions that would inspire me to act in a certain way without even having to consciously think it through.
I was able to better understand the point of “thin-slicing” through connections with my experiences as an athlete, and this personal level of understanding made it much easier for me to appreciate the lessons of Blink, which shows all of us how important and influential the world of our subconscious truly is.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. Print.
Listening With My Heart & Ears
“I began to listen with my eyes, and there is no way that your eyes don’t affect your judgment. The only true way to listen is with your ears and heart” (251). Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book Blink, that when listening with your eyes you’re holding a biased judgment on someone and this judgment is distracting you from seeing the truth. There was a time that I listened with my eyes. That I held a biased opinion against people who did not deserve it; the homeless.
Homeless people to me were like pimples to teenagers; I despised them. Seeing them raid the corners of streets like kids at a toy store or hearing them ask, “Can I have dollar?” just disgusted me. It made me cringe. I always thought they were dirty, needy, ignorant, and they asked to be homeless. They seemed like they were not trying to do anything to better themselves and seeing this infuriated me.
However, working as an intern at a shelter changed my opinions. Once I started listening with my ears, I learned their stories. Either if it was from them losing their homes, or if they were veterans and they had nowhere else to go; I heard their struggle. As I listened with my heart, I learned that no one deserves to be homeless. It is not something that we want to experience. Realizing this changed my impression towards homeless people. It made me realize that they are like us, but they are just having a harder time.
My experience at the shelter helped me understand Gladwell and his explanations. However, it also helped me control my bias judgment and critiques. As Gladwell said, “Once we know about how the mind works-and about the strengths and weaknesses of the human judgment-it is our responsibility to act” (276). Once we start feeling these biased judgments, it is our duty to control and change them. Like I did. I am so glad that I had worked at the shelter because I would not have learned the truth. And I will be still listening with my eyes, instead of my ears and heart.
You don’t think anything of it when you see a truck pass by you right? But what happens when you see that same truck five minutes later? Is it just a mere coincidence or is this truck following you? You see the truck a third time. This is when my adaptive unconscious kicked in and I had to act fast, I had to decided what was going on at the moment and what I was going to do about the situation.
Adaptive unconscious as described in Malcolm Gladwells’ Blink is “like 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 of danger, setting goal, and initiating action in a sophisticated and efficient manner (Gladwell 12). The power of knowing, in that first two seconds is not a gift given magically to a fortunate few, it is an ability that we can all cultivate for ourselves (Gladwell 14).
My adaptive unconscious helped me that night. I had to decide whether or not I was being lurked on or was this person just lost in an unknown part of town? How would I ever know? If I didn’t use my snap judgment at that specific time what would have happened to me? Within the first two seconds of seeing him the second and third time my mind was already putting together all this information and give me the options that I had at that time. Should I call the police? Should I wait to see if I see him a fourth time? In order for me to be safe my adaptive unconscious told me Liana, this isn’t right you have to get out of this situation as quickly as possible before your hurt or something happens. So I decided within the first two seconds of seeing the same truck the second time that I would quickly get out of the situation and call the police if I needed any further assistance.
Assume that I didn’t get out of the situation and I didn’t call the police, what would have happened. At that very moment my adaptive unconscious told me get out so I got out but what if the man was just lost and was too nervous to ask for directions. If I would have stopped to think of all these other possibilities I probably wouldn’t be writing this story to you. Adaptive unconscious is extremely helpful especially in cases like mine where you have to think quickly or your life may be in danger.
My experience helps you better understand as a reader the word adaptive unconscious because it shows you first hand the quick response my adaptive unconscious gave me that night and that I made my decision on what I was going to do based on the information the “giant computer” in my brain pieced together to give me a quick and logical response.
Blink Essay Response
Do you think a complete stranger could know you better than your best friend since pre-school? Would you trust a judgment that only took five minutes over one that took five years to make? How many of you are reading these first few lines and have already made a conclusion whether this paper will be good or bad? What you’re doing to my paper is thin-slicing it. Whether it is a good thing or bad thing, thin-slicing is a very interesting concept, and is found all throughout Blink. But what exactly does “thin-slicing” even mean?
Thin-slicing, as Gladwell puts it, is “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience” (Gladwell 23). It is a critical part of rapid cognition that goes on in the brain on a daily bases. When we thin-slice, we don’t even realize it because this decision making process goes on in the unconscious part of our brain. Remember when Gladwell talked about the experiment Gosling did with the college students and the dorm rooms? That’s a perfect example of thin-slicing. “They came at the question 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” (Gladwell 39).
Thin-slicing happens constantly. A few years back I was the quarterback of my high school football team. It was the middle of the season, and we were playing one of our rivals. The coach called me over, and told me we were going to do a pass play. When the ball was snapped, I looked over to my right at my primary receiver. He was covered. I then looked at my other receiver as he was coming across the field, made eye contact, and then threw the ball to him. Sure enough that catch gave us another six points. Why I threw the ball, I do not know. Maybe it was because he ran his route correctly. Maybe it was because looked open. Or maybe it even was because I talked to him earlier. The truth is I will never really know. My subconscious mind was thin-slicing the situation, disregarding all the unnecessary information that could confuse me in a matter of seconds. This happens all the time in sports and in life. Whether we have a choice or not, we put our complete trust in what our mind thin-slices.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. Print.