Review: ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ author explores psychology of decisions

by Kelli Raines

The student’s heart rate increases slightly as he examines the complex math problem. Looking closely, an observer would see that his pupils have dilated as his face is screwed up in concentration. The student, without even knowing it, has changed the way his brain is thinking. He is using more than just his automatic intuitive thinking — he has tapped into the part of his brain that solves problems and makes rational decisions.

Daniel Kahneman explores the brain, how choices are made and how people can make rational choices in his new book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” released October 2011.

Kahneman’s main point is that prejudices, biases and poor decision-making are results of humankind relying on the automatic and intuitive part of the brain instead of the more slow and attention-oriented part. Because of humankind’s reluctance to think slowly and actively, we continually make irrational decisions.

In the first chapter, Kahneman introduces two parts of the brain: System 1 and System 2. Both are prevalent in experiencing the world and making decisions.

The two systems have their own characteristics and ways of working. System 1 is the fast, intuitive and automatic part of the brain, while System 2 is the slow, attention-oriented part of the brain. Kahneman uses the two systems throughout the book and explains how they affect everyday life.

Broken down into five parts and 38 chapters, the book explains different aspects of decision-making that both systems partake in. That includes heuristics and biases, overconfidence, choices and two selves.

In the part about overconfidence, Kahneman writes that most humans are overconfident despite statistical evidence. That overconfidence is a result of System 1.

There are multiple experiments formatted in the book that allow the reader to try out the techniques that Kahneman uses.

For example, the book begins by presenting a picture of a woman who is angry. The author asks the reader to look at it. Then Kahneman analyzes the experience the reader had while looking at the picture of the woman. He explains that all of the intuitive emotions and judgments toward the woman the reader had while glancing at the picture are from System 1. That helps the reader understand how System 1 affects him or her.

The experiments not only provide additional support to the author’s discussion, but they also engage the reader.

Although the author offers insight into how decisions are made in everyday life, the book’s jargon and extensive detail of cognitive systems and psychology make it a book not for the average reader. It is not a book to pick up for light reading on a Sunday afternoon. A keen desire to read about psychology, the brain, social sciences and choices are required to make the book one of interest.

Overall, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” requires an active and attentive reader who desires to understand the cognitive functions of the brain. The book presents a discussion about many different subjects and ties it back into System 1 and System 2 of the brain.

Readers who wish to think slower, use System 2 and really grasp the concept in the book should take the time to read it; readers who are more prone to following their System 1 probably should look elsewhere.

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