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Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review: Thinking Fast and Slow by Dr. Daniel Khaneman-Priming, Intuition, and Rational Thought


Thinking, Fast and Slow by Dr. Daniel Kahneman discussed the overall processes of fast-paced intuition and a slower process of rational control. The book helps to highlight two concepts called the experiencing self and the remembering self. The experiencing of self is the intuitive experiences that come from our senses while the remembering self is the reflective thoughts that help us gauge history. Each system contributes to the decisions we make and why we make them. 

In system 1 (intuition) people make quick judgments to threats or changes in our environment that allow them to react quickly. The stimulus forces them to quickly scan for possible reactions and associations that benefit their survival. Once they have reacted they can use system 2 (calculation and reflection) to review the possible choices and deliberatively make better choices. 

Both systems can have bias. System 1 can improperly perceive information and make incorrect assumptions from the information. The first answer that comes to mind is not always the correct one. Likewise, people’s rational and deliberative thought can also fool them because they are missing important perceptual information as people rationally move through logical steps and connections.   
Rationality is an interesting concept people use in science but also applies to people’s daily life. 

Rationality is a more deliberative and systematic approach to understanding problems. It relies on calculation, reflection, and judgment. However, rationality is also having consistent beliefs through a person’s being.  For example, it is rational for someone to believe in ghosts as long as it is internally consistent with their other thoughts and beliefs.

The book also discusses priming and its impact on choice. In a priming situation a person can be shown perceptual or conceptual cues that impact responses and choices later. For example, a person primed with environmental stimuli might recognize that stimuli later when more information becomes available. Conceptual priming is often used in research and is focused on using thoughts and concepts under the same modality to impact understanding at a future date.  Perceptual priming can be seen as intuitive while conceptual priming is more rational.

Priming does not need to be overt information and can be unconscious. For example, a single word can be used to prime a thought later through a particular interaction with the environment. Even thought the book doesn’t state this one could make a logical argument that all people are primed in some form or fashion through their collective experiences and shared pasts that allow for groupings of responses. It is possible to predict future choices based upon cultural primes from the past if these past experiences encourage particular behavioral patterns.

The book helps highlight how the “two systems” work together to make accurate or inaccurate judgments. Some have described these as the “hot” and “cold” systems. The “hot” system scans for information and the “cold” system makes rational judgments. When both systems can work together and understand their relationship to the environment a person can develop the strongest responses to challenges and situations while reducing potential cognitive bias and improper reactions. 

The author Daniel Kahneman is a 2002 Nobel Prize winner in Economic Systems. His work as a psychologist focuses on decision making, behavioral economics, judgments, and hedonic behaviors.  In 2012 he was named in the Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top global thinkers. Many of his works are considered new research and ground breaking. 

The book is certainly a beneficial read for those who are interested in decision-making and bias. However, if one were looking for casual reading they may forewarned to move down the aisle to less intensive works. The work includes sufficient depth, case studies, and research on how the mind processes information and the heuristics we use to make decisions.  Even though the language is not difficult to understand the book is more doctoral level in its orientation. 

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN: 978-0-374-27563

Blog Ranking: Academics/Researchers 4.6/5 Casual Readers: 3.9/5
Price:  $20

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