Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesday Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

This book has been on my list to read for a really long time and I was so pleased to receive it for Christmas this past year. This book is subtitled "The Power of Thinking Without Thinking", and it's all about those subconscious decisions you make on a daily basis. Have you ever met someone and you immediately didn't like them but couldn't put your finger on it? Has anyone ever described something (an object, a situation), and you automatically know there's something wrong with it but you can't put your finger on it? I get this feeling about experiments people describe to me, talks I attend. I've even gotten this feeling during job interviews, knowing when things are "right" and when things are "wrong". This book is about these snap decisions - when they go right, and when they can go horribly wrong. The book starts off with a story about a piece of art the Getty Museum wants to buy. The group of experts the Getty gathers together do extensive tests on the art, attempting to validate the age and origin of the art. However, it's almost as if they can't see the forest through the trees. The art is a fake, and some of the experts protested loudly, just "knowing" something was wrong with the piece. However, they couldn't put their finger on it. It likely was a number of aspects that the experts' subconscious had picked up on (wrong angles, odd coloring, slightly off size or shape - things that likely weren't obvious except to a very trained eye). This is this fascinating subconscious decision-making going on, that we rarely can even identify or realize it's happening. This book was really well written, and had a nice scientific point of view that I appreciated. It discussed a number of studies, mostly psychological, or sociological that had been done in more recent years. For example, one study involved giving minority college students a test consisting of a number of the harder questions from the SATs. One group just took the test, while the other group was asked their ethnicity prior to the test. The students asked their ethnicity did significantly worse on the test, and the authors suggested that their identification as a race with negative connotations, even subconsciously, can significantly affect student performance. (As an aside, I did not read the original study, but presumably the two groups of students should have performed equally on the test). This suggests that the power of our subconscious is much stronger than we think. The book also discusses the situation in NYC where four cops shot a black man an enormous number of times because he was pulling out his wallet (they thought he was pulling out his gun). It shows just how wrong our subconscious can be, and how we shouldn't always trust it, especially in situations of extreme duress. This book was a really interesting read. It's broken up into chapters, as well as sub-chapters, so it's a great "before bed" read, as you can read as much or as little as you like. It's well written, and it's not written in "science speak" (meaning, non-scientists should be able to read and understand the concepts and experiments with ease). I highly recommend this book to anyone interesting in learning a little bit more about how our brain works!

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