Slow Down, You Think Too Fast.

Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, author of the new book Thinking, Fast and Slow, knows more than most about how people make decisions. And we often make them badly. As a rule, Kahneman would advise people to slow down their decision-making whenever possible. 

What’s the Big Idea? 

Wherever there’s uncertainty, magical thinking finds a foothold. People resort to tradition, gut instinct, or the nostrum of the moment to dispel the anxiety of not knowing.  Industries arise to exploit the vacuum, offering concrete answers where only guesswork or calculated risk are possible. After all, we’re constantly making decisions, some of which have very high stakes. There’s a lot of money, therefore, in being able to predict the future.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, author of the new book Thinking, Fast and Slow, knows more than most about how people make decisions. As a rule, he says, we’re not very good at predicting the future. Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel prize in Economics "for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty.” Kahneman’s work demonstrates that humans have some psychological tendencies that interfere with clearheaded decision making – focusing on the wrong variables, for example. He cites the example of moving to California in hopes that the nice weather will make you much happier. Many, many people do this. Yet nice weather, according to a study Kahneman did in 2006, has a very minor impact on human happiness. Other factors – good relationships, for example – are much more significant.

Thinking, Fast and Slow examines what many psychologists recognize as two separate mental systems – “fast thinking,” which roughly corresponds to what we call intuition or “gut instinct,” and “slow thinking,” which tends toward deliberative reasoning.

According to Kahneman, there are very few circumstances in which system one – more impulsive and emotional than system two – is your best guide. As a rule, he’d advise everyone to slow down their decision making whenever possible. In general, system one is most reliable within your area of expertise. A chess master, for example, might be able to make a great move based on gut instinct (though even in this case, slowing down couldn’t hurt) because she’s internalized tens of thousands of possible patterns of gameplay.

And for those self-styled Columbos among you who still stubbornly insist on trusting your hunches in every domain, another intriguing finding: confidence has nothing to do with good decision making. That is, there’s no connection between your level of confidence that you’re making the right decision and the outcome of that decision.

What’s the Significance?

In some domains, says Kahneman – those in which there are simply too many variables and too much volatility to predict anything accurately – there is almost no reliable guide to good decision making. High-yield stock market speculation is one such example. And although a “go for it, and the risks be damned!” mentality may be necessary in an entrepreneur, Kahneman points out that very small percentage of entrepreneurial ventures succeed. While the market may profit overall from entrepreneurial risk-taking, the decision to start a new business may be completely ill-advised at a personal level.

The real value of Kahneman’s research is in focusing our attention on decision making not as a unique and marketable form of self-expression but as an area in which we have shared – and often unhelpful – tendencies as a species. If we learn nothing else from his monumental body of work, the mantra “slow down” should give us pause to think closely about why we want to move to New Jersey, vote that jerk out of (or into) office, or quit our day job and hit the road, and whether doing so is likely to get us whatever it is we seek. The answer’s not necessarily “no,” but it very well might be.

Image Credit:

Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Afghanistan is the most depressed country on earth

No, depression is not just a type of 'affluenza' – poor people in conflict zones are more likely candidates

Image: Our World in Data / CC BY
Strange Maps
  • Often seen as typical of rich societies, depression is actually more prevalent in poor, conflict-ridden countries
  • More than one in five Afghans is clinically depressed – a sad world record
  • But are North Koreans really the world's 'fourth least depressed' people?
Keep reading Show less

Banned books: 10 of the most-challenged books in America

America isn't immune to attempts to remove books from libraries and schools, here are ten frequent targets and why you ought to go check them out.

Nazis burn books on a huge bonfire of 'anti-German' literature in the Opernplatz, Berlin. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Culture & Religion
  • Even in America, books are frequently challenged and removed from schools and public libraries.
  • Every year, the American Library Association puts on Banned Books Week to draw attention to this fact.
  • Some of the books they include on their list of most frequently challenged are some of the greatest, most beloved, and entertaining books there are.
Keep reading Show less
  • Oumuamua, a quarter-mile long asteroid tumbling through space, is Hawaiian for "scout", or "the first of many".
  • It was given this name because it came from another solar system.
  • Some claimed 'Oumuamua was an alien technology, but there's no actual evidence for that.