Guided by Impressions of System 1

In Thinking Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman shares research showing how easily people can be tricked or influenced by factors that seem to be completely irrelevant to the mental task that the people are asked to carry out. People will remember rhyming proverbs better than non-rhyming proverbs. People will trust a cited research source with an easy to say name over a difficult and foreign sounding name. People will also be influenced by the quality of paper and colors used in advertising materials. No one would admit that rhymes, easy to say names, or paper quality is why they made a certain decision, but statistics show that these things can strongly influence how we decide.


Kahneman describes the research this way, “The psychologists who do these experiments do not believe that people are stupid or infinitely gullible. What psychologists do believe is that all of us live much of our life guided by the impressions of System 1 – and we often do not know the source of these impressions.”


Making tough and important decisions requires a lot of energy. In many instances, we have to make tough decisions that require a lot of mental effort in a relatively short time. We don’t always have a great pen and paper template to follow for decision-making, and sometimes we have to come to a conclusion in the presence of others, upping the stakes and increasing the pressure as we try to think through our options. As a result, the brain turns to heuristics reliant on System 1. The brain uses intuition, quick impressions, and substitutes questions for an easier decision.


We might not know why we intuitively favored one option over the other. When we ask our brain to think back on the decision we made, we are engaging System 2 to think deeply, and it is likely going to overlook and not consider inconsequential factors such as the color of the paper for the option we picked. It won’t remember that the first sales person didn’t make much eye contact with us and that the second person did, but it will substitute some other aspect of competence to give us a reason for trusting sales person number two more.


What is important to remember is that System 1 guides a lot of our lives. We don’t always realize it, but System 1 is passing along information to System 2 that isn’t always relevant for the decision that System 2 has to make. Intuitions and quick impressions can be biased and formed by unimportant factors, but even if we don’t consciously recognize them, they get passed along and calculated into our final choice.

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