Ever known within a split second that your mates ‘Gucci’ handbag was a fake? Or been aware you’ve met a man who is really right for you without having spoken to him yet? Ever gone to a job interview or on a date that you were dreading just because your friends said you should?
If you’ve ever realised your gut instinct was right and wondered why you didn’t listen to it in the first place, then maybe you should start doing so.
That’s according to Malcolm Gladwells book Blink which indicates that chances are, you’re already one step ahead of yourself.
Our brain has two strategies to make sense of a situation – the logical decision that you make consciously and the snap decision, which is the answer you just know.
For example, a group of scientists at theUniversityofIowadid an experiment on a group of people using blue and red decks of cards where the blue cards won the gambler money and the red lost them money. What they discovered was that after the test subjects had turned over about 50 cards most of them had a hunch that the blue cards were the good ones and the red cards the bad. After about 80 cards most of them had figured out the game. But then the scientists did something else. They hooked the test subjects up to a machine to measure their stress responses. What the scientists found was that after card number 10, the subjects had realised what was going on and were already making decisions to adjust to this fact. In other words, they figured it out unconsciously long before they figured it out consciously.
The Internal Computer
Think first impressions don’t count? Think again. Whenever we meet someone for the first time we’re faced with making a decision about them quickly, under stress. This decision is made by our ‘adaptive unconscious’ which is the same part of our brain that decides to jump out of the way when a truck is coming in our direction.
Often this decision about the person can be surprisingly close to the truth. As described in the book Blink, a psychologist gave a group of students two second tapes of some teachers and asked them to rate them on how effective they seemed as a teacher. The answers showed that the ratings for the teacher in the two second tapes given were very similar to the ratings given after an entire term.
How does it work?
“There’s a wonderful phrase in psychology – ‘the power of thin slicing’,” says Malcolm. “Which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. I have an entire chapter in “Blink” on how unbelievably powerful our thin-slicing skills are. I have to say that I still find some of the examples in that chapter hard to believe.”
So its intuition?
“Not exactly,” explains Malcolm. “You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in Blink. Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings, thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking, its just thinking that moves a little faster. In Blink I’m trying to understand those two seconds.”
Why it doesn’t always work
Outside factors such as emotion and other interests can influence your decision and get in your way of listening to your gut instinct. The book Blink aims to make you see the difference. Maybe the reason your mate bought that fake Gucci handbag in the first place was because she wanted to believe it was real – and as she fell in love with the handbag, her emotions got in the way of seeing what it was really like. But when she brought it back you knew straight away it was fake – your Blink judgement came into play.
Listen to your instinct
Haste makes waste. Stop before you think. Look before you leap. Never judge a book by its cover. Any of those phrases sound familiar? That’s because we hear them every day. As a society we promote gathering as much information as possible and spending lots of time thinking. We really only trust conscious decision making. So what if you didn’t have to lay awake all night worrying about all those decisions that need to be made, what if you went with your first gut decision every time?
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell is available from Amazon.co.uk RRP €7.99 or to learn more go to http://www.gladwell.com/blink.