Sunday, August 7, 2016

Thinking, Fast and Slow - Book Report

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman summarizes the research he conducted throughout his life. Throughout the text, Kahneman explains how our minds think, expounding upon ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’. System 1 is a person’s intuition which is automatic and emotional. When someone uses System 1, they are thinking fast. “System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control” (Kahneman 20). When people use their System 1, they make more mistakes or jump to wrong conclusions. System 2 is used when a person is thinking critically. It is slow and logical. “System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operation of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration” (Kahneman 21). However, System 2 is very lazy. People often do not engage their System 2 thinking unless they have to.
Throughout the book, Kahneman writes about different heuristics and biases. He explains why System 1 makes these mistakes and how to avoid them. He clarifies these heuristics by using studies he or other psychologist have conducted over decades. Kahneman tells about how humans are susceptible to illusions and validity. Even though the world is a very random place, people will try to understand it by looking at past events for explanations. In the fourth part of the book, Kahneman describes Prospect Theory. He explains how problems are solved by themselves, but if another reference is considered the outcome is drastically changed. The last point that Kahneman discusses is about two selves. The two selves are the experiencing and remembering self. The remembering self controls people because it does not remember the duration of pain or pleasure. It just remembers the end.
My favorite part of the book was chapter 14, Tom W’s Specialty. I enjoyed when Kahneman talks about his studies because he lets the reader be part of them. In the Tom W puzzle, Tom W is first introduced as a graduate student at a main university. Kahneman then asked the participants to rank the likelihood that Tom W is a student in nine fields using one for the most likely and nine for the least likely. These fields included business administration, computer science, engineering, humanities and education, law, medicine, library science, physical and life sciences, and social science and social work. The key to this solution is the relative size of enrollment in these nine different fields. The next part of the study does not have as easy of a solution. Tom W is introduced again, but this time with personality traits:
Tom W is of high intelligence, although lacking in true creativity. He has a need for order and clarity, and for neat and tidy systems in which every detail finds its appropriate place. His writing is rather dull and mechanical, occasionally enlivened by somewhat corny puns and flashes of imagination of the sci-fi type. He has a strong drive for competence. He seems to have little feel and little sympathy for other people, and does not enjoy interacting with others. Self-centered, he nonetheless has a deep moral sense. (Kahneman 147)
The same question of ranking the likelihood of the same nine fields is asked. In the 1970’s, the average order was computer science, engineering, business administration, physical and life sciences, library science, law, medicine, humanities and education, then social science and social work. The personality of Tom W was written to fit the stereotype of a computer science graduate student. Tom W’s study shows the representativeness heuristic.
            One of the reasons this passage in the book is my favorite is because of how different my answers were from the average. The only two fields that I ranked the same as the average was humanities and education and social science and social work. My top three most likely was library science, medicine, and law. I probably choose library science as my first choice because I was ‘primed’ to do so from an earlier section in the book. If Kahneman had chosen to write about the Tom W’s study before talking about whether a person was a farmer or librarian, I probably would have ranked library science as lower on my list. However, I do not think it would have changed my second and third choice. In a perfect world, doctors and lawyers would care a great deal for all of their patients and clients. However, my father is a doctor and my Aunt and Uncle are lawyers, so I hear plenty about how the professionals do not actually care about the people they are helping. I undoubtedly chose medicine as my second choice as I would describe my brother as almost identical to Tom W. My brother will be going off to medical school in another year. I ended up ranking computer science so low because I personally do not see a lot of people like Tom W in my major. That is not to say that we are not all nerdy to some degree since pretty much everyone is some sort of gamer. Tom W is what the stereotypical computer science major is, but in my experience there are many different personalities in this major. I myself have never been pegged by anyone as a computer science major even though I have an INTJ personality like Tom W.
            Thinking, Fast and Slow explains why pseudoscience and the paranormal are accepted by so many people. When thinking fast, people are more likely to believe a pseudoscientific cure all or that the dead are among the living. It is a quick way to explain a phenomenon that cannot be explained by using System 2 of the brain. Let us look at the subliminal messaging for an example. In 1957, a subliminal advertising study showed that at a movie theater when advertisements for popcorn and coke were shown sale prices for that food and drink went up. A possible hypothesis for why this happened is cognitive ease and priming. When a person is constantly exposed to something, they become more comfortable with it. So when these movie goers were exposed to the advertisement, they made the choice to get food at the theater, specifically popcorn and coke. Priming also holds a role in why this happened. If a couple starts talking about what they want to eat, they are more likely to choose coke and popcorn. This is just like when in a study after the experimenter primes the volunteer with the word eat they are more likely to fill in SO_P with a U then an A. Subliminal messaging does not create the same results because “What do you want to eat or drink?” is a much easier question to answer.  Cognitive ease and priming only come into play when one is making a single decision. That is why the self-help tapes for self-esteem, memory, weight, anger management, and sexual responsiveness only had an illusory placebo effect.
            Thinking, Fast and Slow is a book that explores the mind. While this book would not make people try to use more of their System 2, it does explain why people are easy to make certain decisions. In a perfect world, people would be influenced to make less cognitive mistakes by using their System 2. However with that said, this book could still help people. A business man or women could use the peak end heuristic to his or her advantage during a meeting if he or she introduces something more entertaining at the end that would make their meeting memorable. A politician can use the overestimating the likelihood of rare events to promote a position. For example if there is a mass shooting using an automatic weapon, a Politian can drive home to necessity that automatic weapons should be made illegal. People will use the focusing illusion and rare events heuristics to ultimately be swayed to the positions side. In a way, this book can help people to influence others by using their System 1’s to their advantage.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. N.p.: Farra, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Print.

Video of a mini study I conducted around my neighborhood based on the Tom W Study:

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