Book Review: Blink

Blink is about the first two seconds of looking–the decisive glance that knows in an instant.

Blink, by Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point [see review below]) goes into great (and interesting) detail on how our subconcious mind works by looking, mostly, at the first two seconds of an interaction with something/someone. Through interesting stories he shows us how what we “know” about someone/something is often biased and how that bias can have positive and negative effects on our decisions and actions.

Some of the things I thought were particularly interesting were:

Priming, which is sort of like placing suggestions in peoples head. Examples included: People were asked to rearrange random sets of words into sentances, there was a subtle (fairly undetectable) pattern (one group got words like polite, patience, etc. while the other group get words like rude, interupt, etc. After re-arranging the words they were asked to go talk to someone down the hall (who was, as planned, busy). One group waited, patiently, the other group interupted.

I think one of the most interesting examples of priming was a study they did on black people taking the GRE. One group simply had to fill out what race they were at the top of the test, the other group didn’t. The group that filled out what race they were did 1/2 as well.

Another interesting section was on Implicit Association Tests (IATs). These show inherit bias in your subconcious. You might not associate, conciously, black people with violence or men with being doctors but, these tests pretty much prove your subconcious does (in black and white people and men and women, it’s a US culture thing, not a “white people are racist” or “men are sexist” thing). Try these tests yourself at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

Something that would be interesting to read up on later (note-to-self) would be the studies Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen did on faces. These guys tried to categorize every muscle combination the face (around 5,000 sets) can do and then went back and accociated what that face meant (happy, sad, angry, etc.). Their book What the Face Reveals: Basic and Applied Studies of Spontaneous Expression Using the Facial Action Coding System would likely be a good read. Using this data bank they’re able to pretty much read what is actually happening, and not what the person is trying to make happen (lie detection, etc.).

Tons more stuff in this book is worth checking out. Gladwell is a very good writer and his two books are a quick read even for the slowest of readers (that’d be me). It was interesting on a pop psychology level as well as a quasi scientific level.