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Decision Making and Intuition.

By Derik Mutiso.

Have you ever been to a job interview? Chances are, you did everything you could to create a good impression with the person seated on the other side of the desk. You paid close attention to your dress code, and made sure to prepare yourself for all the probable questions the interviewer was going to ask. What if I told you that all the preparation wasn’t that important and that your prospective new boss had made up their mind before you even finished your introduction?

The importance of first impressions cannot be overstated. The first few moments of an encounter may be all it takes to create a lasting first impression with someone. They may well have an impact on the career path we pursue, the friends we make or who we choose as a life partner. Thin slicing refers to the ability of
our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. If you have ever felt an urge to change your seat on a plane or bus simply because you didn’t feel right about
sitting next to someone, you have used your thin slicing ability.

When it happened, you probably became aware of a strong gut instinct. You were probably much more aware of everything going on around you because you felt a sense of looming danger. Humans thin slice all the time, not just when they are in danger. In his book, Blink the power of thinking without thinking,Malcom Gladwell focuses on thin slicing, citing various examples and studies that prove how often humans thin slice. He says we are thin-slicing all the time; when we go on a date or meet a prospective employee. In the book, Gladwell speaks of John Gottman -a psychologist at the University of Washington who wrote; The mathematics of divorce. Since the 1980’s, Gottman has worked with more than 3,000 married couples, studying them in a room near the University.

Thin slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. If you have ever felt an urge to change your seat on a plane or bus simply because you didn’t feel right about sitting next to someone, you have used your thin slicing ability.

He is able to predict with fairly impressive accuracy whether two people are compatible with each other or not. If he watches only 15 minutes of tape, Gottman’s success rate stands at about 90 percent. Scientists in his lab can usually predict whether a marriage will work after watching just three minutes of newlywed conversation. If he analyzes an hour long video of a husband and wife talking, Gottman is able to predict with 95% accuracy whether a couple will be together in 15 years or not. He relies on subtle fragments of information like facial expressions and looks out for signs of contempt, and inflexibility, pointing out that these are vital in determining how successful a marriage will be.

What Gottman looks out for is the ratio of positive to negative emotion, pointing out that the ratio of positive to negative emotion in a given encounter has to be at least five to one. Gottman looks for patterns, recognizing that all marriages have a distinctive pattern, just like DNA. He is able to take a very thin slice of any relationship, understand its basic pattern and then make a fairly accurate prediction of its destiny. Gottman believes that people are in one of two states in a relationship. The first is a positive statement override, where positive emotion overrides irritability. If a spouse does something bad, his/her partner simply assumes they are in a bad mood.

When there is a negative statement override, even when one partner says or does something relatively
neutral, it is perceived as negative. People draw negative conclusions about each other. . If the spouse
does something positive, it’s a selfish person doing a positive thing. The reason Gottman is so good at what he does, is because he has mastered the art of thin slicing. In his book, Blink, Malcom Gladwell states that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing” – filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

Gladwell tells a story about kouros, an ancient Greek statue of a youth that was put up for sale in California, the Getty Museum expressed immediate interest. The piece was outstanding and well preserved. Standing at 7 feet, and priced at around 10million, the deal was too good to be true. In order to determine the authenticity of the statue, the Getty Museum ran a series of tests before making their purchase. A geology test determined that the marble used in the piece was sourced from Cape Vathy quarry on Thasos Island. It
was covered with a layer of calcite which is a substance that only accumulates on statues after hundreds or even thousands of years.

After a long and conclusive 14 month investigation, the Getty Museum went ahead with the purchase after confirming the piece was genuine. An art historian, Federico Zeri heard about the statue and asked to see it. He immediately knew that it was fake. Another artist was more descriptive, stating that while it had the form of proper classical statue, it lacked the spirit. A third felt a wave of “intuitive repulsion” when he first laid eyes on it. Further investigations were made, and eventually, the whole scheme was brought to light. It so happened that the statue had been sculptured by forgers in Rome in the early 1980’s. It turns out that the teams of analysts who did 14 months of research were totally wrong.

The three art historians who counted on their initial gut instincts were right. The initial assessments we make of individuals, and situations set us on a particular course. If we have decided that a new social contact is a certain type of person, who thinks, feels and behaves a certain way, we pay more attention to evidence that confirms our theory is correct. This is known as “confirmation bias”. We seek out the information that tells us we are right, and we ignore or assign little importance to anything that might suggest otherwise.

In a psychology study done at Oregon state university, It was discovered that observers who were shown the first 15 seconds of a job interview could predict, quite accurately whether an interviewee would be hired or not .The first few moments were enough for the observers to determine the candidate’s chances of success. The study at Oregon State University was supervised by Professor Frank Bernieri who concluded that, “First impressions are the fundamental drivers of our relationships,” “In a sense, it’s a little like the principle of chaos theory, where the initial conditions can have a profound impact on the eventual outcome.

A first impression is your initial condition for analyzing another human being.” Thin slicing involves observing a small selection of an interaction, usually less than 5 minutes, and being able to draw conclusions on the attitudes and emotions of the people interacting. Gladwell observes that most people assume that long, methodical investigation yields more reliable conclusions than a snap judgment.
But in fact, “decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and

Many studies have shown that extremely brief observations can be used to come up with accurate decisions. Comparing decisions made after observations of less than 5minutes to those greater
than 5 minutes shows no significant difference. This means the observations made within the first few
minutes are just as reliable. Psychologist Nalini Ambady conducted a test to prove this theory. She gave her students three 10-second videos of a teacher lecturing. Nalini asked her students to rate the teacher.

Surprisingly, their ratings matched ratings from the group of students who had attended the teacher’s course for a whole semester. She went on to reduce the video lengths to two seconds and showed it to a separate group of observers. The ratings still matched those of the students who’d sat through the entire term. There is in all of our brains, Gladwell argues, a mighty backstage process, which works its will
subconsciously. Through this process we have the capacity to sift huge amounts of information, blend
data, isolate telling details and come to astonishingly rapid conclusions, even in the first two seconds of
seeing something.

“Blink’ is a book about those first two seconds,” Gladwell writes… All this does leave room for inaccuracies. It is possible to thin-slice and still draw wrong conclusions. An untrained brain will get correct gut feelings out of sheer luck. However, if a person takes time to consciously learn and hone their knowledge, the balance of probability can be shifted into actual accuracy. It is quite clear that thin-slicing has a huge impact on decision making.

One obvious take-away from this article is that we should listen more to our gut instincts when we are
making decisions. Improving our thin slicing abilities will ultimately lead to us making better decisions inthe long run. The question is, how can we achieve this? The human brain can take in 11,000,000 million bits of sensory information per second, and you are only aware of 50 of those. What we call gut instinct is actually a function of the brain that relies on its ability to gather far more information than we are ever aware of.

You can change your intuition to be more accurate, you however need to put in time and effort to learn the process consciously. It is necessary for you to learn consciously before your brain can draw accurate conclusions subconsciously. You have the ability to greatly increase the speed and accuracy of your observations and inductions, at the risk of getting things wrong initially. As you get better however, and learn more, you make more accurate decisions and will be able to do this quicker each time


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