Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 829
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 and African Americans with negative and positive words. One of the tests asks someone to place words such as "hurt," "evil," and "glorious," into the two race categories. One test categorizes all the good words in the European American category, and another switches the good words to the African American category. Researchers have found that more than 80 percent of the test's participants took longer to identify African Americans with positive words than they did European Americans. Gladwell stresses that even most African Americans who take the test exhibit "pro-white associations" and was disturbed to discover that he possessed those same associations even though he is half black. No matter what individuals do, they cannot cheat the test. However, Gladwell found that if someone began spending a lot of time observing positive examples of African Americans in society (such as Olympic champions competing), then that person showed less bias the next time he took the test.
While this aspect of the human subconsciousness is disturbing, Gladwell completes the chapter by offering an example of a car salesman who is able to set aside negative thin slicing in order to treat customers fairly. Bob Golomb sells cars for a New Jersey dealership and consistently sells twice as many cars as other salesmen. Golomb explains that he has many repeat customers and that he treats each customer who comes through the door the same and assumes that he or she will buy a car. Golomb's sales theory is the complete opposite of the attitude held by Chicago car salesmen who unwittingly participated in a thin-slicing experiment. In the 1990s, Chicago law professor sent white men and women and black men and women—all dressed alike and with the same credentials—into local car dealerships. The researchers were instructed to try to buy the lowest-priced car in the dealership at the best price. The outcome was that the white men were offered the best deals, often without even asking for a special price. White women were next in receiving the best offers, then black women, and finally black men. Gladwell notes that the study does not demonstrate that car dealers are extremely sexist and racist; rather, he argues that humans thin slice in situations such as this based on previously held associations and that Golomb's sales techniques prove that if humans are aware of their tendency to thin slice, then they can often suppress the negative use of it.