Tuesday, August 02, 2005

(****) Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

This book is both illuminating and frightening as it exposes the netherworld of your unconscious, and how it greatly affects who you are and what you do - even the parts that you think are consciously under your control. Perhaps with this knowledge you can start to understand your biases, proclivities and compensate for them or take advantage of them. In any case, I'm hoping my recommendation will both consciously and unconsciously bias you to read this book.

“In front of you are 4 decks – 2 of them red and the other 2 blue… You can only win by taking cards from the blue deck. The question is how long will it take you to figure this out? …After 50 cards most of us start to develop a hunch about what’s going on. We don’t know why we prefer the blue decks, but we’re pretty sure that they are a better bet. After 80 cards, most of us figured out the game, and can explain exactly why the red decks are a bad idea… [Researchers] hooked up each gambler to machine that measured activity of sweat glands in the palms… which get clammy when we are nervous… Gamblers started generating stress responses to the red decks by the 10th card, 40 cards before they were able to say that they had a hunch about what was wrong about those 2 decks. More important, right around the time their palms became sweaty, their behavior changed… They started favoring the blue decks…They had figured the game out [by the 10th card]… before they were consciously aware of what adjustments they were supposed to make.” p8

“A person watching a 2 second video clip of a professor he or she has not met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who has sat in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.” P13

“If [John Gottman, Univ of Wash Prof of Psychology] analyzes an hour of a husband and wife talking, he can predict with a 95% accuracy whether the couple will still be married in 15 years… One of Gottman’s findings is that for a marriage to survive, the ratio of positive to negative emotion in a given encounter has to be at least 5 to 1…He tracks the ups and downs of a couple’s level of positive and negative emotion… once they start going down, toward negative emotion, 94% will continue going down. It is an indication of how they view their whole relationship… [Gottman] has found that he can find out much of what he needs to know just by focusing on what he calls the 4 Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt… If Gottman observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward each other, he considers it the single most important sign that the marriage is in trouble.” Pp 21-32

“[An] experiment [began] by doing a personality workup on 80 college students… that measures people across 5 dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, Openness to New Experiences. Then [the experimenters] had close friends of those 80 students fill out the same questionnaire… Then [the experimenters] repeated the process, but this time he didn’t call on close friends. He used total strangers who had never met the students they were judging. All they saw were their dorm rooms [for] 15 minutes… How did [the 2 groups] do? The dorm room observers weren’t as good as friends in measuring extraversion. The friends also did slightly better than dorm room visitors at accurately estimating agreeableness… But on the remaining 3 traits, the strangers came out on top… If you want to get a good idea of whether I’d make a good employee, drop by my house one day and take a look around.” Pp 34-6

“Believe it or not the risk of being sued for malpractice has very little to do with how many mistakes a doctor makes… Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care and something else happens to them. What is that something else? It’s how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor…If the surgeon’s voice was judged to sound dominant, the surgeon tended to be in the sued group. If the voice sounded less dominant and more concerned, the surgeon tended to be in the non-sued group… In the end it comes down to respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice, and the most corrosive tone of voice that a doctor can assume is dominant.” Pp 41-3

“Researchers did a study in which they had [2] groups of students answer 42 Trivial Pursuit questions. ½ were asked to take 5 minutes beforehand to think about what it would mean to be a professor and write down everything that came to mind. Those students got 55.6% of the questions right. The other ½ were asked to first sit and think about soccer hooligans. They ended up getting 42.6%.” p56

“Psychologists [asked] black college students [to answer] 20 questions from the GRE… When the students were asked to identify their race on the a pretest question… the number of items they got right was cut in half.” P56

“The results… suggest that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on autopilot, and the way we think and act – how well we think and act… are a lot more susceptible to outside influence than we realize.” P58

See how biased you really are by taking the tests at http://www.implicit.harvard.edu/

“In the US population, about 14.5% of all men are 6ft or taller. Among CEOs of F500 companies, that number is 58%. Even more striking, in the general American population, 3.9% of adult men are 6FT 2IN or taller. Among CEOs, almost a third were 6’2” or taller…Of the 10’s of millions of American men below 5’6”, a grand total of 10 have reached the level of CEO, which says that being short is probably as much of a handicap to corporate success as being a woman or an African American… An inch of height is worth $789 a year in salary. That means that a person who is 6’ tall but otherwise identical to someone who is 5’5” will make on average $5,525 more per year.” P87-8

“[Researchers] put together a team of 38 people – 18 white men, 7 white women, 8 black women, and 5 black men. [They] took great pains to make appear as similar as possible… All were given the same cover story. They were instructed to go to a total of 242 car dealerships in the Chicago area [where] they should walk in and say ‘I’m interested in buying this car’… After they heard the salesman’s initial offer, they were instructed to bargain back and forth… The results were stunning. The white men received initial offers that were $725 above invoice… White women got offers $935 above invoice… Black women were quoted a price of $1,195. And black men? Their initial offer was $1,687. Even after 40 minutes of bargaining, the black men could get the price down to only $1551… The black men still ended up with a price that was nearly $800 higher than [the price] the white men were offered without having to say a word.” P92-3

“The threat of malpractice has made doctors less and less willing to take a chance on a patient, with the result that these days only about 10% of those admitted to a hospital on suspicion of having a heart attack actually have a heart attack.” P131

“[Researchers] wanted to see whether the number of jam choices made any difference in the number of jams sold. Conventional economic wisdom, of course, says that the more choices consumers have, the more likely they are to buy, because it is easier for consumers to find the jam that perfectly fits their needs. But [the researchers] found the opposite to be true. 30% of those who stopped by the 6 choice booth ended up buying some jam, while only 3% of those who stopped by the bigger [24 choice] booth bought anything… If you are given too many choices… than your unconscious is comfortable with, you get paralyzed.”p142

“[Researchers] gathered a group of volunteers and hooked them up to monitors measuring their heart rate and body temperature – the physiological signals of such emotions as anger, sadness, and fear. ½ of the volunteers were told to try to remember and relive a particularly stressful experience. The other ½ were simply shown how to create, on their faces, the expressions that corresponded to stressful emotions, such as anager, sadness and fear. The 2nd group, the people who were acting, showed the same physiological responses, the same heightened heart rate and body temperature, as the 1st group… A few years later…[researchers] had a group of subjects look at cartoons, either while holding a pen between their lips – an action that made it impossible to contract either of the 2 major smiling muscles – or while holding a pen clenched between their teeth, which had the opposite effect and forced them to smile. The people with the pen between their teeth found the cartoons much funnier. These finding may be hard to believe, because we take it as a given that first we experience an emotion, anad then we may express that emotion on our face… What the research showed is that the process works in the opposite direction as well. Emotion can also start on the face.”p 207 Act happy, and pretty soon you’ll be happy.

"On the most basic neurological level, for some with autism, a face is just another object... Normal people, when they are looking at faces, used a part of the brain called the fusiform gyrus, which is an incredibly sophisticated piece of brain software that allows us to distinguish among the literally 1000s of faces we know. When normal participants looked at a chair, they used a completely different and less powerful part of the brain, which is normally reserved for objects. The difference in the sophistication of those 2 regions explains why you can recognize Sally from the 8th grade 40 years later but have trouble picking out your bag on the airport luggage carousel." p219


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Anonymous said...

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell - Our brain has that great power of making a split-second decision, but it is up to us, how we develop that unusual potential. I would recommend reading this book with a neutral mind and think. This is a must read for every engineer, designer, consultant and manager who is concerned with human performance. It is a fun read.

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