Think back to when you had a first date or when you were mingling with a stranger at a party. I bet within the first five minutes of conversing with that person you had configured a picture of compatibility or a feeling of dislike. The ability of your brain to process information without you realizing it is known as adaptive unconscious. This unconscious processing and our ability to make choices in an instant are discussed in the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. In most cases, people trust their conscious decision making more then their unconscious snap judgments. Gladwell makes the point that “thin-slicing” (the automatic processing of information in the first seconds on a situation) is many times the only information needed to make the best decision. In some cases, too much information confuses an issue and makes it appear more complicated. For example, forged artwork is easily identified by experts when only looked at for a brief second. They usually have a “gut feeling” that something is off and can say with great accuracy which pieces should be purchased and which should be thrown away. Another example of this is when relationship experts watch couples converse for only five minutes-they can accurately predict which will be divorced in the next 15 years. In both of these cases, the experts didn’t need to analyze all the information. The brains of those who are expert in a particular field are quite good when it comes to snap reactions. We all possess the general ability to process information in seconds because it allowed us to survive; jumping from snake bites or a jealous cavewomen.
Does thin-slicing always help us out when it comes to making decisions? Not at all. The problem is that in moments of quick judgement we are unconsciously primed by stress, lack of experience, and societal stereotypes. For example, police officers although not consciously racist or prejudice will respond differently to black males compared to white males in a split-second decision. Research also shows, that in split second judgments, both white and black participants were more negative to black people then white people. The unconscious kicks in and is primed by societal stereotypes and images seen in the media; the real-world result is many times a killing of a innocent young male and a cop being accused of a hate crime. This makes me think of the Ferguson shooting and explains possibly what happened. On a positive note, with training and experience, this unconscious reaction can be identified and better controlled. For example, cops are being told to wait for backup, be more cautious, and slow down their decision making so that it is more conscious. I know there is racism in the US but I think that priming and thin-slicing helps better explain why black men are more susceptible to police shootings compared to white men; giving the benefit of the doubt to the involved police that they are not racial bigots. Let’s train our doctors, generals, police officers, and all service workers who need to make quick decisions on the dangers and benefits of thin-slicing. Our ability to blink and make decisions is a gift in a lot of scenarios but with a society that constantly bombards us with stereotyped messages it can become a lethal handicap.