Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Blink: The power of thinking without thinking.

Blink provides an easy to read, reasonably accurate description of the power of subconscious processing.

Basically, Gladwell documents the numerous situations where one's instant, subconscious reactions are more accurate than the later, more reasoned, deliberations. The book provides an excellent set of examples of situations where these instant responses are indeed superior, as well as numerous examples where they aren't.

What the book lacks is a decent theoretical explanation. I believe these results come about because we are primarily pattern-matching mechanisms, and experts have had sufficient experience with the domain that they can match patterns rapidly and efficiently. This is all automatic -- subconscious - so often the expert doesn't have any idea why that particular decision was reached, simply that it "felt" right. This, to me, is the power of the behavioral level of processing.

Deliberate reasoning, which to me is done at the reflective level, is slower, more apt to be rule based, and often does not consider the same contextual cues.

What Gladwell fails to stress (although a careful reading will find it in the book) is that these immediate responses are only accurate for experts. That is, unless you have spent years in a domain, don't trust those subconscious thoughts. Automaticity, whether in creative problem solving or the playing of sports and musical instruments comes at a price: practice, practice, and practice.

But, these caveats aside, I highly recommend the book. Gladwell is an excellent writer who has done his homework well.

One reader of this review suggested that the Psychological Bulletin article by Matthew Lieberman was "The Rosetta Stone" of intuition. I agree that this is an excellent article, reviewing much of the scientific research underlying "intuition," which is indeed the basis for Blink. Lieberman, M. D. (2000). Intuition: A social cognitive neuroscience approach. Psychological Bulletin, 126 (1), 109-137.

Lieberman's article is intended for those with a good background in experimental psychology and neuroscience. Others may find it difficult to follow. But for those up to the challenge, I recommend it highly. (The article is not available online, except by paid subscription. But the journal — and online access to the article — is carried by most university libraries.)

Link to book at