Summary

In this book, author and psychologist Daniel Kahneman seeks to develop a framework for understanding how our minds receive, process, and react to information.  To do so, he splits the basic processes of cognition and decision making into two systems, which he aptly labels System 1 and System 2.  System 1 can be described as the intuitive mind.  According to Kahneman, it evolved as a means of quickly and efficiently processing information to aid in our survival.  System 1 is wonderful at estimating degree, establishing accurate impressions, and creating narratives to describe observed phenomena.  System 2 can be described as the rational mind.  It is the lesser used of the two systems.  System 2 is good at calculating sums and finding answers to complex problems.  Through the description of a variety of psychological studies, Kahneman establishes two main points using his two system model.  First, Kahneman claims that we are all lazy thinkers; rarely do we engage our System 2 rational minds except in instances of necessity.  Second, he claims that many of the decisions we make and conclusions we come to are products of our System 1 intuitive minds.  Because System 1 is prone to making numerous and predictable errors, even highly intelligent people suffer from blind-spots in their judgment caused by biases.

Review

Though I have very little psychological training, I find Kahneman’s argument very compelling.  Many of the errors he attributes to System 1 (the halo effect, anchor biasing, question switching, etc.), I have been either consciously or subconsciously aware of in my own thinking.  For example, Kahneman describes how he noticed bias in his grading of student papers.  If one student had written a great paper and an awful paper, Kahneman was much more likely to give the awful paper a higher grade if he had read the great paper first.  I noticed this “benefit-of-the-doubt” phenomenon in my own grading during my student teaching.  I think everyone would benefit from reading this book.  Though Kahneman acknowledges that being aware of our biases does little to curb them, simply being aware of the fact that we are not the rational super decision making machines we think we are is a humbling and healthy experience.  A dense but super-interesting book.

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