Blink (book)

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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Paperback edition
Author Malcolm Gladwell
Country United States
Language English
Subject Psychology, popular psychology
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Back Bay Books, Little, Brown
Publication date
January 11, 2005
Media type Print, e-book, audiobook
Pages 320 p. (paperback edition)
ISBN 0-316-17232-4
OCLC 55679231
153.4/4 22
LC Class BF448 .G53 2005
Preceded by The Tipping Point, 2000
Followed by Outliers, 2008

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005) is Malcolm Gladwell's second book. It presents in popular science format research from psychology and behavioral economics on the adaptive unconscious: mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information. It considers both the strengths of the adaptive unconscious, for example in expert judgment, and its pitfalls, such as stereotypes.


The author describes the main subject of his book as "thin-slicing": our ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. In other words, this is an idea that spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones. Gladwell draws on examples from science, advertising, sales, medicine, and popular music to reinforce his ideas. Gladwell also uses many examples of regular people's experiences with "thin-slicing."

Gladwell explains how an expert's ability to "thin slice" can be corrupted by their likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes (even unconscious ones), and how they can be overloaded by too much information. Two particular forms of unconscious bias Gladwell discusses are Implicit Association Tests[1] and psychological priming. Gladwell also tells us about our instinctive ability to mind read, which is how we can get to know what emotions a person is feeling just by looking at his or her face.

We do that by "thin-slicing," using limited information to come to our conclusion. In what Gladwell contends is an age of information overload, he finds that experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis.

Gladwell gives a wide range of examples of thin-slicing in contexts such as gambling, speed dating, tennis, military war games, the movies, malpractice suits, popular music, and predicting divorce.

Gladwell also mentions that sometimes having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment, or a doctor's diagnosis. This is commonly called "Analysis paralysis." The challenge is to sift through and focus on only the most critical information to make a decision. The other information may be irrelevant and confusing to the decision maker. Collecting more and more information, in most cases, just reinforces our judgment but does not help to make it more accurate. The collection of information is commonly interpreted as confirming a person's initial belief or bias. Gladwell explains that better judgments can be executed from simplicity and frugality of information, rather than the more common belief that greater information about a patient is largely proportional to an improved diagnosis. If the big picture is clear enough to decide, then decide from the big picture without using a magnifying glass.

The book argues that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge. For example, Gladwell claims that prejudice can operate at an intuitive unconscious level, even in individuals whose conscious attitudes are not prejudiced. An example is in the halo effect, where a person having a salient positive quality is thought to be superior in other, unrelated respects. Gladwell uses the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo, where four New York policemen shot an innocent man on his doorstep 41 times, as another example of how rapid, intuitive judgment can have disastrous effects.[2]

Research and examples[edit]

  • The book begins with the story of the Getty kouros, which was a statue brought to the J. Paul Getty Museum in California. It was proved by many experts to be legitimate, but when experts first looked at it, their initial responses said something was not right. For example, George Despinis, head of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, said "Anyone who has ever seen a sculpture coming out of the ground could tell that that thing has never been in the ground". Gradually, the argument for the legitimacy of the kouros' provenance fell apart. The letters tracing its history turned out to be fakes, referencing postal codes and bank accounts that did not exist until after the letters were supposedly written. However, experts to this day are unsure whether the kouros is authentic or not. The museum notes that "anomalies of the Getty kouros may be due more to our limited knowledge of Greek sculpture in this period rather than to mistakes on the part of a forger."[3]
  • John Gottman is a researcher well known for his work on marital relationships. His work is explored in Blink. After analyzing a normal conversation between a husband and wife for an hour, Gottman can predict whether that couple will be married in 15 years with 95% accuracy. If he analyzes them for 15 minutes, his accuracy diminishes to 90%. This is one example of when "thin slicing" works.[4]
  • The studies of Paul Ekman, a psychologist who created the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), indicates that a lot of “thin slicing” can be done within seconds by unconsciously analyzing a person’s fleeting look called a microexpression. Ekman claims that the face is a rich source of what is going on inside our mind and although many facial expressions can be made voluntarily, our faces are also dictated by an involuntary system that automatically expresses our emotions.[5]


Richard Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, argues that Gladwell in Blink fails to follow his own recommendations regarding thin-slicing, and makes a variety of unsupported assumptions and mistakes in his characterizations of the evidence for his thesis.[6] The Daily Telegraph review writes, "Rarely have such bold claims been advanced on the basis of such flimsy evidence."[7]

In Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye (Simon and Schuster, 2006), Michael LeGault argues that "Blinklike" judgements are not a substitute for critical thinking. He criticizes Gladwell for propagating unscientific notions:

As naturopathic medicine taps into a deep mystical yearning to be healed by nature, Blink exploits popular new-age beliefs about the power of the subconscious, intuition, even the paranormal. Blink devotes a significant number of pages to the so-called theory of mind reading. While allowing that mind-reading can "sometimes" go wrong, the book enthusiastically celebrates the apparent success of the practice, despite hosts of scientific tests showing that claims of clairvoyance rarely beat the odds of random chance guessing.[8]

Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow which speaks to rationality's advantages over intuition, says, "Malcolm Gladwell definitely created in the public arenas the impression that intuition is magical... That belief is false."[9]

In an article titled “Understanding Unconscious Intelligence and Intuition: Blink and Beyond”, Lois Isenman agrees with Gladwell that the unconscious mind has a surprising knack for ‘thinking without thinking’ but argues that its ability to integrate many pieces of information simultaneously provides a much more inclusive explanation than thin-slicing. She writes:

Gladwell often speaks of the importance of holism to unconscious intelligence, meaning that it considers the situation as a whole. At the same time, he stresses that unconscious intelligence relies on finding simple underlying patterns. However, only when a situation is overwhelmingly determined by one or a few interacting factors is holism consistent with simple underlying signatures. In many situations, holism and simple underlying signatures pull in different directions.[10]

Topics mentioned[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Greenwald, Anthony G.; et al. (1998). "Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74: 1464–80. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.74.6.1464. PMID 9654756. 
  2. ^ Cooper, Michael (1999-02-05). "Officers in Bronx Fire 41 Shots, And an Unarmed Man Is Killed". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  3. ^ "Statue of a Kouros (Getty Museum)". 2009-05-07. Retrieved 2013-05-03. 
  4. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (2005-01-07). "Excerpt from 'Blink'". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  5. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (2007). Blink. Back Bay Books. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-316-01066-5. 
  6. ^ Posner, Richard A. (2005-01-24). "University of Chicago Law School > News 01.17.2005: Posner Reviews ''Blink''". Retrieved 2013-05-03. 
  7. ^ Skidelsky, Edward (2005-02-06). "Good intuition takes years of practice". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  8. ^ LeGault, Michael (2006). Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye. New York. 
  9. ^ Charlie Rose Show broadcast February 28, 2012 at 27:05. USA. 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-16. 
  10. ^ Isenman, Lois (2013). "Understanding Unconscious Intelligence and Intuition: Blink and Beyond." Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 56 (1): 148–166 p. 160.
  11. ^ Qamar, A (Oct 1999). "The Goldman algorithm revisited: prospective evaluation of a computer-derived algorithm versus unaided physician judgment in suspected acute myocardial infarction.". American Heart Journal 138: 705–9. doi:10.1016/s0002-8703(99)70186-9. PMID 10502217. 

External links[edit]