Blink by Malcolm Gladwell explores the idea of “thin-slicing,” which is the act of the brain only using a small bit of information to make a decision. These types of snap judgements are sometimes thought to be inferior to well thought out and studied decisions. Gladwell shows that well researched decisions are not always better decisions. Rapid cognition, or “thin-slicing,” is observed in many cultures and is used by many people around the world. In some ways, one can make the case that “thin-slicing” is derived from nature, and is not affected by one’s environment.
It is performed by the nconscious brain and therefore not under one’s control. Since one sometimes can not control how their brain senses patterns and uses that information, there has to be something going on in the brain, not affected by outside sources, that makes judgments. Vic Braden, a tennis coach, was able to sense if a player was going to double fault seconds before the player did exactly that. He is not sure how he knew, but he was able to predict double faults with over ninety-four percent accuracy. Something in his unconscious was telling him that the player would make a mistake and it would almost always be correct.
He could not understand why, but he just knew. This same story can also provide evidence for “thin-slicing” being derived from nurture. Braden has been involved in tennis for over fifty years. He has watched hundreds of matches. His environment shaped his view of the game. Even though he is not able to tell how he knows a player will double fault, his past experience allows him to see small nuances in the player’s stance and movements. He may not know how he knows, but his brain is picking up on the pattern. In growing up and maturing, one gains experience and stores those memories.
The brain collects all of those experiences and is able to form patterns based off of them. This is where biases and prejudices come from. When movies and television portray black and hispanic people as thugs and criminals and white people as heroes over and over again, one’s brain compiles that information and makes the unconscious connection that black and hispanic people are inherently bad and white people are inherently good. Does that make someone racist? Absolutely not; it just shows that they have been conditioned to think that way.
This conditioning is what aused four white police officers in New York to consider Amadou Diallo, an African American man standing on his porch, suspicious. Based on the officers’ experience in the “street crime” division of the New York Police Department, focused on patrolling the poorest neighborhoods in New York, and the past encounters the officers had had, Diallo was killed. He was shot forty-one times by the four officers patrolling the area. Diallo was allegedly rummaging around in his pocket after the officers had identified themselves and one of the officers made a snap judgement and decided that Diallo had a gun.
After all of the shots were fired, the officers discovered that Diallo was reaching for his wallet, presumably to show them his ID. Could this have been an act of racism? Yes. Could the officers have unconsciously picked up on the pattern of people of color being portrayed as criminals? Yes. Either way, Diallo’s death was a deadly combination of possibly unconscious bias and mistakenly presumed danger. Rapid cognition is based on the constant conditioning of one’s brain to pick up patterns. No person is born with biases towards people of color or women.
No one is orn with the ability to tell when a tennis player will double fault. Those patterns are gathered from one’s environment, one’s nurture. Snap judgements are based off of past encounters, and therefore are derived from one’s nurture. Whether or not the four officers in New York chose to shoot Amadou Diallo because he was black or because they genuinely suspected him of causing them deadly harm will only truly be known by those officers, but others can try to understand how they made the choice. Did they come to their conclusion freely, or was their choice predetermined? News outlets like The New
York Times and The Atlantic have tried to tackle the topic of free will. The Times argues in their article “Do You Have Free Will? Yes, It’s the Only Choice” that free will probably does not exist but people are better off believing in it. The article discusses a study done by Dr. Kathleen Vohs that concludes “the higher the [test subjects] scored on the scale of belief in free will, the better their ratings on the job. ” The Atlantic’s article “There’s No Such Thing as Free Will” suggests that free will does not exist but also shows that people who believe in free will are less stressed and ore creative.
Both articles share the idea that free will makes people more optimistic. Believing in free will gives people the idea that people can make good decisions. It lets people believe that morality exists and people are able to make good decisions on their own. The humanistic perspective would suggest that the officers had complete choice. Humanism supports the idea of free will that anyone can choose their own destiny and that those decisions are not influenced by the environment. A behaviorist perspective would suggest the the officers’ behavior was learned.
A behaviorist approach suggests that the officers did not really have a choice and that they were conditioned to act as they did; the officers’ environment dictated how they would act. Environments shape people. The way people are raised plays a big part in the development of personalities. People are a product of their environment. This is why people that are born into poverty almost never escape it and why people who are born into wealth are usually set for life. This is not to say that people have no control over their future. Choice is possible, but is almost always shaped by their environment.
The ideas of “thin-slicing” and free will are both based around decision making and choice. Snap decisions dictate the way people choose and free will is the idea that people are able to choose. “Thin-slicing” suggests that there is no free will. “Thin-slicing” is the brain noticing patterns in past experiences and applying that knowledge to current situations. Unless one can reverse the conditioning they have experienced, biases will always be there and influence future decisions. “Thin-slicing” should be evaluated under behaviorism.
The environment one grows up in and is exposed to is where one earns how to behave. Unconscious biases are learned from experience. People are conditioned to think a certain way. Whether they are influenced by their parents or the media, people are shaped by their environments. The free will debate also relates to the nature and nurture debate. Are people able to choose their outcome or are they predisposed to a certain life? Is someone just who they are or are they made to be a certain way? Free will indicates that the way people behave is nature; it is how they want to act.
A deterministic mindset, or the belief that their is no free will and verything is proactively set up, would suggest that behavior is nurture; that someone is conditioned to act a certain way. It is hard to tell if someone is choosing something or if they were made to choose it. Free will is more abstract and harder to study while conditioning and learned behavior is more apparent and observable. The intertwining of the nature and nurture debate and the free will debate has opened the door to new and interesting theories. People are shaped by their past experiences.
That is how people are able to “thin-slice. The brain recognizes patterns nd applies them to new situations in order to make a decision. That decision is based off of information that is unconsciously collected and stored. People are conditioned to behave a certain way. One’s nurture has a huge impact on how people will act. Behaviorism shows that. A behavi istic perspective suggests that people do not really have full choice over their actions. All of this suggests that free will is merely a myth and choices do not have to be extensively researched to be correct, but the world feels like a better and safer place when choice is seen as free and has research to back it up.