Saturday, June 07, 2008

Snap judgments

I read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink when it was still new in hardback. The basic premise -- which I'll poorly paraphrase as, "people can make surprisingly accurate snap judgments on a nearly subconscious level, based on hard information which their conscious mind doesn't necessarily have access to" -- seems pretty sound, though he does go out of his way to point out lots of ways in which quick, instinctive judgments can be appallingly wrong. But since I've read the book, I've been more aware of making instinctive snap judgments, and I've been trying to gauge their accuracy.

One situation in which I make a lot of snap judgments is on the bike. I'll glance over my shoulder at approaching traffic and instantly decide that this might be a good time to hop up on the sidewalk for a block or two, or I'll notice a car pulling out of a side street and assume that this driver doesn't see me. I really have no way of knowing if any of these are accurate assessments, since I always follow the assumed path of safety. But when I guess the other way (assuming that a car sees me, or that it's safe to stay on the road), I've always been right. So far, at least.

I noticed myself making instant judgments again today, during a show. I had a large collection of soloists during a choir show, and I tweaked the equalizer settings for each new singer. I'd glance at who was heading to the mic, make a snap judgment about their voice (range, tone, volume), and adjust the mixer appropriately -- all before they actually started singing. I was only appreciably wrong once. I have no idea what subconscious cues I was looking at to judge someone's voice from their physical appearance, but they were apparently pretty accurate. Have any of you read the book, and had similar experiences?

1 comment:

Ted S. said...

I know mechanics who do this when they diagnose car problems. They listen to the car for a few seconds, say, "the problem's obviously your nargle framis," then run some official diagnostic tests to confirm. They can't tell you how they know, either. It just sounds like a certain problem.