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.