Blink Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell's 2005 non-fiction book Blink is about how people use their adaptive unconscious – the part of the brain that operates rapidly based upon little information – to make important decisions. Gladwell considers how and why some people are able to make such decisions with success, and others are unable to do so. He argues that every person has the ability to fine-tune their ability to “thin-slice”, or take a little bit of information in a small amount of time, and make critical decisions. However this ability takes time to develop, and one of the most peculiar and frustrating things about it works is that people are often unable to explain how they came to make such decisions. This is precisely Gladwell's prerogative: to unlock the door that he refers to as the adaptive unconscious, and prime people to think about how exactly they arrive at split-second decisions.

Gladwell explicates this process through a series of narratives ranging from the historical to the psychological and sociological, from medicine to law enforcement, and academia to salesmanship. Gladwell bifurcates split-second decisions, and the series of scientific and anecdotal evidence he presents, into positive and negative outcomes. There are times when the adaptive unconscious is able to make effective decisions - e.g. despite months of investigation a museum is unable to ascertain the authenticity of a Greek statue (called a kouros), yet archaeologists are able to tell at first glance that it is a fake. And other instances where the adaptive unconscious miscalculates terribly - e.g. the notorious case of Amadou Diallo, who was killed when 4 police officers fired 41 bullets at an unarmed man, without confirming whether he was a criminal or had a gun.

The book presents a plethora of interesting, provocative, and insightful examples of success and failure, but leaves it up to the reader to decide how exactly to make the distinction between when thin-slicing is fruitful and when it can be harmful.

Gladwell has stated that the inspiration for his book was his decision to grow out his hair into an afro. He began to notice he was pulled over by TSA agents and ticketed by police more often, and was intercepted by three cops looking for a suspect in a sexual assault case who happened to have the same hairstyle. These first impressions were, of course, baseless, but he was fascinated by how these decisions were made.

Blink is an international bestseller, and has been translated into more than 25 languages.