Study Guide

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Summary

Extended Summary

Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is his second work. It follows his bestselling The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. First published in 2005, Blink explores the connection between cutting-edge psychological and neurological research and human intuition. Whereas The Tipping Point establishes the effect of other humans and the outside world on people's decisions and social trends, Gladwell uses Blink to demonstrate how someone's inner self or subconscious effects his or her decisions.

Introduction: The Statue That Didn't Look Right

Gladwell's introduction to Blink presents the example of the J. Paul Getty Museum's purchase of a statue that turned out to be a forgery. The Getty was approached by an art dealer in 1983 who claimed to have a sixth century B.C. Greek statue for sale—a kouros. Although officials at the museum were somewhat suspicious initially, they decided to purchase the statue after a 14-month investigation. The investigation included using core samples from the statue to test its age, background checks into the documentation of the statue's former owners, and even tests by sculpture experts in Athens. In 1986, satisfied that the kouros was an original, the Getty put it on display. Unfortunately, once the sculpture went on display, experts began expressing doubts about its authenticity. First an Italian art historian, Federico Zeri, observed that the statue's fingernails "seemed wrong to him." He could not articulate why they looked wrong, but he had a bad feeling about the kouros. After several other art experts experienced similar doubts, the Getty initiated further investigation into the sculpture's origin and discovered that it possibly could be a reproduction. Parts of the sculpture fit into different time periods, and forensic research revealed that a good forgery could pass a core sample test if the statue were soaked in potato mold. The end result is that the statue remains on display, but its placard reads, "About 350 BC, or modern forgery." Throughout the rest of Blink, Gladwell refers back to this introductory example to explain why some of the experts knew upon first glance at the statue that something was wrong.

Chapter 1: The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way

Chapter 1 introduces the idea of "thin slicing"—taking minute details about someone or something and using that thin slice to develop a larger opinion of him, her, or it. The chapter focuses mostly on the research of psychologist John Gottman from the University of Washington. Gottman has established the reputation of being able to determine with a 90% accuracy rate whether a marriage will endure. He does so by observing the couple for 15 minute or less. He has trained assistants in his Love Lab to quickly code facial expressions and tones to determine the underlying messages that spouses send to one another. The couples, of course, send their messages of contempt, anger, disgust, defensiveness, or neutrality subconsciously; so Gottman and his assistants do not study the couples' words nearly as much as they do their reactions and gestures. Gottman's research is significant because it establishes the idea that humans do not need to know a great deal about someone else to determine that person's personality. Gladwell offers other examples of effective thin slicing in this chapter, such as strangers rather than friends being able to more accurately identify someone's personality based on a 15-minute look at his or her dorm room.

Chapter 2: The Locked Door: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions

While John Gottman and other established psychologists can logically explain how their research works and how they know what they do about the human mind, Chapter 2 explains why most of us cannot explain how our subconscious mind works. Gladwell notes that many humans are similar to the art experts in the book's introduction: our intuition tells us that something is not quite right or tells us that we can trust someone, but we cannot articulate why we think the way we do. The author offers the example of Vic Braden, one of the world's top tennis coaches, who discovered that he could predict with impressive accuracy when a tennis player was going to double fault (serve two bad serves in a row). Braden would watch matches and think to himself, "She's going to double fault," as the player began her serve. Interestingly enough, Braden was tortured by the fact that he could not identify how he was so accurately predicting the poor serves. He tried thinking about his thinking but was at a loss as to how to explain his hunches to others.

Similarly, Gladwell explores speed dating in this chapter and notes that most humans consciously describe the qualities that they are looking for in a partner but then end up choosing to date or being attracted to someone who does not possess any of the listed attributes. Again, when asked by the researchers who oversaw the speed dating research, participants could not consciously state why they were intuitively drawn to people who did not fit their lists.

Chapter 3: The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall for Tall, Dark, and Handsome Men

Although Harding's name appears in the chapter's title, he is not its main focus. Gladwell simply uses him at the beginning to demonstrate that appearance or irrelevant features often cause humans to use thin slicing negatively. In Harding's case, even though he was not particularly intelligent or moral, he was able to get elected because "he looked Presidential." Harding served only two years in office (he died from a stroke), yet he has been noted by many historians as one of the worst presidents in American history. Gladwell uses this "first impression" example as a starting point for discussing gender and race biases. He includes several Initial Association Tests (IATs), which test individuals' association of males and females with careers and home, and then he discusses Harvard's Race IAT, a computerized test that requires participants to match photos of European Americans...

(The entire section is 2531 words.)