Synopsis of "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell

by Mary Barton

Malcolm Gladwell, reporter for The New Yorker magazine and author of the best-selling book, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference," again captured the public eye with the intriguing title of "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." "Blink" is about the benefits and dangers of using rapid cognition to make decisions.


Gladwell defines rapid cognition as the ability of the mind to formulate accurate assessments of a situation in the blink of an eye. Using the inherent abilities of the unconscious mind, Gladwell proposes that within two seconds, the unconscious mind reaches a series of conclusions, in psychology called a "thin-slice," about what is true about a situation and reveals that truth in the form of a snap decision. The power of thin-slicing is considered by psychologists as the ability of humans to make sense of situations using a minimum amount of experience.


Gladwell suggests that relying upon first impressions in making decisions can frequently be more beneficial and accurate than the long-term information gathering, analysis and planning recommended by traditional business, educational and societal wisdom. Gladwell indicates that -- particularly during periods of stress and high-pressure, such as in emergency room diagnoses -- research has shown that just a few, high-quality indicators are more effective and life-saving than more time-consuming tests and evaluations.


Blink is filled with research and examples of first impressions that worked and those that didn't work. For example, he cites the J. Paul Getty museum's acquisition of a kouros, an ancient sculpture, for $10 million that was a fake. Despite lengthy investigations by experts that validated the sculpture as authentic, it was later found, through the instincts of subsequent experts, to be a perpetrated fraud. Another example cites research conducted by a marriage counselor that demonstrates within just a few moments of speaking with a couple, the counselor could accurately predict whether the couple's marriage would last.


Gladwell proposes that inaccuracies arise with the use of rapid cognition when our prejudices interfere with the accurate portrayal of events. He cites examples of police mistakes that cost lives due to stereotyping of suspects. His Warren Harding example demonstrates a societal presidential election error, of supposedly the worst American president, due to the commonly held belief that tall, handsome orators make good presidents. Gladwell suggests that awareness of how we think, and what our thoughts are based on, would make our rapid cognition more accurate.

About the Author

Based in the Pacific Northwest, Mary Barton has been writing professionally since 1990. She has written two nonfiction books, worked as the product manager for a publishing company, an editor for two newspapers and was the content manager for various Microsoft websites. Barton has a Bachelor of Science in computer science from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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