Thinking Without Thinking

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The book weaves together a whole lot of anecdotal episodes and scientific studies to look at the process of making decisions, not just quickly but instantly. Gladwell presents the notion that our unconscious mind can (and does) make snap decisions through a process he calls ‘thin-slicing’ (which is essentially eliminating all but the most critical bits of information). If you’re interested in how people think, process information, and make decisions this will be an interesting book. (If it doesn’t make you think differently, it’ll at least make you think about how you think – differently!)

One of the factors of thin slicing that is most interesting to me is the idea that our reactions are ‘primed’ by a number of factors. He cited a couple studies that were done in which test takers’ behaviors were modified simply by the subtle insertion of certain words within the test. Words like Florida, gray, bingo, etc. inserted into the test cause the test takers to walk more slowly after the test. Other test takers became more polite or more intrusively rude when primed with other sets of words.
One implication of all of this is seen in how we process information and shift our behaviors and attitudes without even realizing it. Another study Gladwell mentions was a tool that’s been developed called the Implicit Association Test that measures the associations we make between ideas. Many of these associations are not intentional, but we tend to carry them anyway, even if we don’t realize it. (You can visit the link above to take some of the tests to see how this works.) These are unconscious attitudes toward other races, classes, situations, etc.

Gladwell states, “The disturbing thing about the test is that it shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values.” In other words, the test reveals a gap between what we say we think/feel/believe and what we truly think/feel believe. So where did these attitudes come from? How did they form in our thinking? Our environment (all our prior experiences, family, friends, media, etc.) has primed us to certain dispositions.
This got me thinking about the impact of of God’s Word as it relates to cognitive development. Right now on my desk, I have within my reach hundreds of books (yes, youth ministers can read), an Internet full of information, videos, music, messages on discs, (and a stapler and a rhino)… There’s a phone on my desk with 3 lines and another in my pocket with which I can call anywhere in the world with a question… At my home, all these same conduits of information are there with a couple TVs promising to help me learn to live better, thinner, wiser…
But there is nothing more important to soak my mind in than the Bible. After reading Blink, I’m noticing my first inclinations and thinking about where they’re coming from. I’m seeing how I make snap judgments and understanding why my gut instinct is what it is. I’ve been primed for 33 years to think and react a certain way. If I really want to think and act like Jesus, then I need to make sure that the environment in which my mind is developed is full of Him.
I know that wasn’t necessarily Gladwell’s intention for “blink” – but I’m thankful for the reminder.

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