Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Born to Jewish emigrant parents, Daniel Kahneman is the winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. This book, Thinking Fast and Slow, became a bestseller in 2011 and consists of the gist of all his work in cognitive psychology and heuristic biases (along with Amos Tversky).

What is the heuristic biases that Kahneman spent decades researching about? Well,

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Author : Daniel Kahneman
Originally Published : 2011
Publication : Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages : 499
Genre(s) : Non-Fiction, Self-Help, Psychology

human beings love to simplify things, even in complex situations. They ignore the complexities of things and try to simplify them in order to find quick answers and solutions. It is here that biases creep in. Bias is a systematic error of judgment. The book is written to speak about and make known human errors in judgments and choices, first in others and then in ourselves.

Impact of errors in judgment

Kahneman says that people base decisions on heuristics rather on solid facts and data. Ex. A person would buy millions of dollars of stock of a particular company simply because he liked the company’s products and loved the idea that he owned stock of that company, completely ignorant about whether the stock was, at that time, undervalued, or had chances of booming up in the near future. Leave aside completion and preparedness. That’s plain intuition that he is using and is attributed to fast thinking as opposed to slow thinking which is a more deliberate process.

He provides two examples: The first one is a picture of a woman who is looking with crooked eyebrows and a gaping mouth whom we immediately attribute as being angry. The second is a multiplication problem which we don’t hastily arrive at an answer for because we know it needs some amount of calculation. This is the fast and slow thinking process. The Muller – Lyer illusion being a point in question, we tend to immediately make decisions based on intuition rather than facts and analysis.

Several experiments and collaborations later, Kahneman and his teammates came up with some brilliant hypotheses which they managed to prove with proper study most of the times. Like intuitive errors are more likely to occur in ego-depleted people (this happens when participants were asked to focus on certain tasks while ignoring everything else). Or the one that shows that messages written in bold are more believable than those written in normal font. Still more believable are those written in color.

The human brain relies on past experiences to form certain stereotypes and biases that creep into our decisions at numerous levels. Knowing what causes such bias can be put to good use (it is also used by advertisers and influencers in a different way, but that’s another story for some other day). Biases happen because we believe that what we see is all there is and don’t take effort to dig for more facts. So we find certain kinds of (unknown) faces as trustworthy because we associate trustworthiness not to performance or facts but to appearances.

Take the example of anchoring statements. When you ask someone whether Gandhi was more than 114 years old when he died, the answer would be much closer to the number stated rather than if you’d ask what age was Gandhi when he died. This is the same effect that impacts listing prices which get higher valuation if they are listed at a higher figure.

The intricacies of the human mind

Kahneman doesn’t stop at telling you how the mind tricks itself to arrive at judgments, he also tells you how it invents concepts. Like ‘Risk’ which is a human’s way to figure out and cope with the dangers and uncertainties of life.

He goes on to show the applications of it all, that rewards for improved performance works better than punishment for mistakes.

Key takeaways

  1. Kahneman postulates two kinds of thought processes in humans which he calls ‘System1’ and ‘System2’ which are respectively fast and slow thinking. While system 1 thinking allows you quick decisions, it could be flawed and biased. System 2 thinking takes time but uses slow, deliberate thoughts and is more logical than the System 1 which makes decisions taken by system 2 thinking much more solid than System 1.
  2. Human decisions and judgments are frequently based on heuristics which is a way to simplify complex concepts.
  3. A lot of what happens in our life- the decisions and choices we make, the impressions we create about people and things, the biases in our images all result out of our mind’s play

Why I recommend this book

Because it shows us, humans, a mirror for our cunning mind. The mind has a mind of its own and it reigns many times, overruling our logical thoughts.

Understanding the finer aspects of thinking enables us to prevent falling into the trap of biases.

This book leaves you spellbound after knowing how we’re tricked, fooled, and misled by our mind many times. Knowing well, we can begin to think consciously, at least. Thanks to Kahneman, we now know.

Easily a must-have book in your library.

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