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The mental activity can be measured by pupils dilatation.
Why be concerned with gossip? Because it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own.
Questioning what we believe and want is difficult at the best of times, and especially difficult when we most need to do it.
Many of us spontaneously anticipate how friends and colleagues will evaluate our choices; the quality and content of these anticipated judgments therefore matters.
You believe you know what goes on in your mind, which often consists of one conscious thought leading in an orderly way to another.
Most impressions and thoughts arise in your conscious experience without your knowing how they got there.
The mental work that produces impressions, intuitions, and many decisions goes on in silence in our mind.
Amos and I discovered that we enjoyed working together. Amos was always very funny, and in his presence I became funny as well, so we spent hours of solid work in continuous amusement. The pleasure we found in working together made us exceptionally patient; it is much easier to strive for perfection when you are never bored.
An individual has been described by a neighbor as follows: “Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structurut and stre, and a passion for detail.” Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?
Consider the letter K.
Is K more likely to appear as the first letter in a word OR as the third letter?
Would you accept a bet on the toss of a coin where you win $130 if the coin shows heads and lose $100 if it shows tails?
Until geographical separation made it too difficult to go on, Amos and I enjoyed the extraordinary good fortune of a shared mind that was superior to our individual minds and of a relationship that made our work fun as well as productive.
Where we are now
My main aim here is to present a view of how the mind works that draws on recent developments in cognitive and social psychology.
we now understand the marvels as well as the flaws of intuitive thought.
We have all heard such stories of expert intuition: the chess master who walks past a street game and announces “White mates in three” without stopping, or the physician who makes a complex diagnosis after a single glance at a patient.
each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day.
This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.
a slower, more deliberate and effortful form of thinking. This is the slow thinking of the title.
I describe mental life by the metaphor of two agents, called System 1 and System 2, which respectively produce fast and slow thinking.
I speak of the features of intuitive and deliberate thought as if they were traits and dispositions of two characters in your mind.
What Comes Next
Part 1 presents the basic elements of a two-systems approach to judgment and choice.
Part 2 updates the study of judgment heuristics and explores a major puzzle: Why is it so difficult for us to think statistically?
Part 3 a puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in.
part 4 the nature of decision making. the model of choice.
Part 5 distinction between two selves, the experiencing self and the remembering self.
Part 1 - Two Systems
The Characters of the Story
System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. choice, and concentration.
When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book.
- Detect that one object is more distant than another.
- Orient to the source of a sudden sound.
- Complete the phrase “bread and…”
- Make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture.
- Detect hostility in a voice.
- Answer to 2 + 2 = ?
- Read words on large billboards.
- Drive a car on an empty road.
- Find a strong move in chess (if you are a chess master).
- Understand simple sentences.
- Recognize that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail” resembles an occupational stereotype.
- Brace for the starter gun in a race.
- Focus attention on the clowns in the circus.
- Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room.
- Look for a woman with white hair.
- Search memory to identify a surprising sound.
- Maintain a faster walking speed than is natural for you.
- Monitor the appropriateness of your behavior in a social situation.
- Count the occurrences of the letter a in a page of text.
- Tell someone your phone number.
- Park in a narrow space (for most people except garage attendants).
- Compare two washing machines for overall value.
- Fill out a tax form.
- Check the validity of a complex logical argument.
The often-used phrase “pay attention” is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities. If you go beyond your budget, you will fail.
Everyone has some awareness of the limited capacity of attention.
When the driver of a car is overtaking a truck on a narrow road, for example, adult passengers quite sensibly stop talking. They know that distracting the driver is not a good idea, and they also suspect that he is temporarily deaf and will not hear what they say.
in their book The Invisible Gorilla. They constructed a short film of two teams passing basketballs, one team wearing white shirts, the other wearing black. The viewers of the film are instructed to count the number of passes made by the white team, ignoring the black players. This task is difficult and completely absorbing. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a gorilla suit appears, crosses the court, thumps her chest, and moves on. The gorilla is in view for 9 seconds. Many thousands of people have seen the video, and about half of them do not notice anything unusual. It is the counting task—and especially the instruction to ignore one of the teams—that causes the blindness. No one who watches the video without that task would miss the gorilla.
The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find its results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the gorilla are initially sure that it was not there—they cannot imagine missing such a striking event.
The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.
System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires, and that is fine—usually.
When System 1 runs into difficulty, it calls on System 2 to support more detailed and specific processing that may solve the problem of the moment. System 2 is mobilized when a question arises for which System 1 does not offer an answer.
System 2 is actated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains. In that world, lamps do not jump, cats do not bark, and gorillas do not cross basketball courts. The gorilla experiment demonstrates that some attention is needed for the surprising stimulus to be detected. Surprise then activates and orients your attention: you will stare, and you will search your memory for a story that makes sense of the surprising event.
System 2 is also credited with the continuous monitoring of your own behavior—the control that keeps you polite when you are angry, and alert when you are driving at night. System 2 is mobilized to increased effort when it detects an error about to be made. Remember a time when you almost blurted out an offensive remark and note how hard you worked to restore control.
In summary, most of what you (your System 2) think and do originates in your System 1, but System 2 takes over when things get difficult, and it normally has the last word.
The division of labor between System 1 and System 2 is highly efficient: it minimizes effort and optimizes performance.
System 1 has biases, however, systematic errors that it is prone to make in specified circumstances. As we shall see, it sometimes answers easier questions than the one it was asked, and it has little understanding of logic and statistics.
One further limitation of System 1 is that it cannot be turned off. If you are shown a word on the screen in a language you know, you will read it—unless your attention is totally focused elsewhere.
Conflict between an automatic reaction and an intention to control it is common in our lives.
We are all familiar with the experience of trying not to stare at the oddly dressed couple at the neighboring table in a restaurant. We also know what it is like to force our attention on a boring book, when we constantly find ourselves returning to the point at which the reading lost its meaning.
One of the tasks of System 2 is to overcome the impulses of System 1. In other words, System 2 is in charge of self-control.
Now that you have measured the lines, you—your System 2, the conscious being you call “I”—have a new belief: you know that the lines are equally long. If asked about their length, you will say what you know. But you still see the bottom line as longer. You have chosen to believe the measurement, but you cannot prevent System 1 from doing its thing; you cannot decide to see the lines as equal, although you know they are. To resist the illusion, there is only one thing you can do: you must learn to mistrust your impressions of the length of lines when fins are attached to them. To implement that rule, you must be able to recognize the illusory pattern and recall what you know about it. If you can do this, you will never again be fooled by the Müller-Lyer illusion. But you will still see one line as longer than the other.
Not all illusions are visual. There are illusions of thought, which we call cognitive illusions.
“You will from time to time meet a patient who shares a disturbing tale of multiple mistakes in his previous treatment. He has been seen by several clinicians, and all failed him. The patient can lucidly describe how his therapists misunderstood him, but he has quickly perceived that you are different. You share the same feeling, are convinced that you understand him, and will be able to help.” At this point my teacher raised his voice as he said, “Do not even think of taking on this patient! Throw him out of the office! He is most likely a psychopath and you will not be able to help him.”
What we were being taught was not how to feel about that patient. Our teacher took it for granted that the sympathy we would feel for the patient would not be under our control; it would arise from System 1. Furthermore, we were not being taught to be generally suspicious of our feelings about patients. We were told that a strong attraction to a patient with a repeated history of failed treatment is a danger sign—like the fins on the parallel lines. It is an illusion—a cognitive illusion—and I (System 2) was taught how to recognize it and advised not to believe it or act on it.
errors of intuitive thought are often difficult to prevent.
continuous vigilance is not necessarily good, and it is certainly impractical. Constantly questioning our own thinking would be impossibly tedious, and System 2 is much too slow and inefficient to serve as a substitute for System 1 in making routine decisions.
The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high.
The premise of this book is that it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.
Why call them System 1 and System 2 rather than the more descriptive “automatic system” and “effortful system”? The reason is simple: “Automatic system” takes longer to say than “System 1” and therefore takes more space in your working memory. This matters, because anything that occupies your working memory reduces your ability to think.
Speaking of System 1 and System 2
“He had an impression, but some of his impressions are illusions.”
“This was a pure System 1 response. She reacted to the threat before she recognized it.”
“This is your System 1 talking. Slow down and let your System 2 take control.”
Attention and Effort
In the unlikely event of this book being made into a film, System 2 would be a supporting character who believes herself to be the hero.
The defining feature of System 2, in this story, is that its operations are effortful, and one of its main characteristics is laziness, a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary.
To start, make up several strings of 4 digits, all different, and write each string on an index card. Place a blank card on top of the deck. The task that you will perform is called Add-1. Here is how it goes:
Start beating a steady rhythm (or better yet, set a metronome at 1/sec). Remove the blank card and read the four digits aloud. Wait for two beats, then report a string in which each of the original digits is incremented by 1. If the digits on the card are 5294, the correct response is 6305. Keeping the rhythm is important.
Few people can cope with more than four digits in the Add-1 task, but if you want a harder challenge, please try Add-3.
If you would like to know what your body is doing while your mind is hard at work, set up two piles of books on a sturdy table, place a video camera on one and lean your chin on the other, get the video going, and stare at the camera lens while you work on Add-1 or Add-3 exercises. Later, you will find in the changing size of your pupils a faithful record of how hard you worked.
the psychologist Eckhard Hess described the pupil of the eye as a window to the soul.
his wife had noticed his pupils widening as he watched beautiful nature pictures, and it ends with two striking pictures of the same good-looking woman, who somehow appears much more attractive in one than in the other. There is only one difference: the pupils of the eyes appear dilated in the attractive picture and constricted in the other. Hess also wrote of belladonna, a pupil-dilating substance that was used as a cosmetic, and of bazaar shoppers who wear dark glasses in order to hide their level of interest from merchants.
One of Hess’s findings especially captured my attention. He had noticed that the pupils are sensitive indicators of mental effort—they dilate substantially when people multiply two-digit numbers, and they dilate more if the problems are hard than if they are easy. His observations indicated that the response to mental effort is distinct from emotional arousal.
Beatty and I developed a setup similar to an optician’s examination room, in which the experimental participant leaned her head on a chin-and-forehead rest and stared at a camera while listening to prerecorded information and answering questions on the recorded beats of a metronome. The beats triggered an infrared flash every second, causing a picture to be taken. At the end of each experimental session, we would rush to have the film developed, project the images of the pupil on a screen, and go to work with a ruler. The method was a perfect fit for young and impatient researchers: we knew our results almost immediately, and they always told a clear story.
Beatty and I focused on paced tasks, such as Add-1, in which we knew precisely what was on the subject’s mind at any time. We recorded strings of digits on beats of the metronome and instructed the subject to repeat or transform the digits one indigits onby one, maintaining the same rhythm. We soon discovered that the size of the pupil varied second by second, reflecting the changing demands of the task. The shape of the response was an inverted V. As you experienced it if you tried Add-1 or Add-3, effort builds up with every added digit that you hear, reaches an almost intolerable peak as you rush to produce a transformed string during and immediately after the pause, and relaxes gradually as you “unload” your short-term memory.
Add-1 with four digits caused a larger dilation than the task of holding seven digits for immediate recall. Add-3, which is much more difficult, is the most demanding that I ever observed. In the first 5 seconds, the pupil dilates by about 50% of its original area and heart rate increases by about 7 beats per minute. This is as hard as people can work—they give up if more is asked of them.
We amused ourselves and impressed our guests by our ability to divine when the participant gave up on a task.
“Why did you stop working just now?” The answer from inside the lab was often, “How did you know?” to which we would reply, “We have a window to your soul.”
Unlike the tasks that we were studying, the mundane conversation apparently demanded little or no effort—no more than retaining two or three digits. This was a eureka moment: I realized that the tasks we had chosen for study were exceptionally effortful.
mental life is normally conducted at the pace of a comfortable walk, sometimes interrupted by episodes of jogging and on rare occasions by a frantic sprint. The Add-1 and Add-3 exercises are sprints, and casual chatting is a stroll.
We found that people, when engaged in a mental sprint, may become effectively blind. The authors of The Invisible Gorilla had made the gorilla “invisible” by keeping the observers intensely busy counting passes.
during Add-1. Our subjects were exposed to a series of rapidly flashing letters while they worked. They were told to give the task complete priority, but they were also asked to report, at the end of the digit task, whether the letter K had appeared at any rored at antime during the trial.
The observers almost never missed a K that was shown at the beginning or near the end of the Add-1 task but they missed the target almost half the time when mental effort was at its peak.
Failures of detection followed the same inverted-V pattern as the dilating pupil. The similarity was reassuring: the pupil was a good measure of the physical arousal that accompanies mental effort, and we could go ahead and use it to understand how the mind works.
Much like the electricity meter outside your house or apartment, the pupils offer an index of the current rate at which mental energy is used. The analogy goes deep.
When you turn on a bulb or a toaster, it draws the energy it needs but no more. Similarly, we decide what to do, but we have limited control over the effort of doing it. Suppose you are shown four digits, say, 9462, and told that your life depends on holding them in memory for 10 seconds. However much you want to live, you cannot exert as much effort in this task as you would be forced to invest to complete an Add-3 transformation on the same digits.
A breaker trips when the demand for current is excessive, causing all devices on that circuit to lose power at once. In contrast, the response to mental overload is selective.
Imagine yourself at the wheel of a car that unexpectedly skids on a large oil slick. You will find that you have responded to the threat before you became fully conscious of it.
As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes.
Highly intelligent individuals need less effort to solve the same problems, as indicated by both pupil size and brain activity.
“law of least effort”: if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.
What makes some cognitive operations more demanding and effortful than others? What outcomes must we purchase in the currency of attention? What can System 2 do that System 1 cannot? We now have tentative answers to these questions.
System 2 is the only one that can follow rules, compare objects on several attributes, and make deliberate choices between options.
System 1 detects simple relations (“they are all alike,” “the son is much taller than the father”).
System 1 will detect that a person described as “a meek and tidy soul, with a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail” resembles a caricature librarian, but combining this intuition with knowledge about the small number of librarians is a task that only System 2 can perform.
Consider the following: Count all occurrences of the letter f in this page. This is not a task you have ever performed before and it will not come naturally to you, but your System 2 can take it on.
Modern tests of working memory require the individual to switch repeatedly between two demanding tasks, retaining the results of one operation while performing the other. People who do well on these tests tend to do well on tests of general intelligence. However, the ability to control attention is not simply a measure of intelligence; measures of efficiency in the control of attention predict performance of air traffic controllers and of Israeli Air Force pilots beyond the effects of intelligence.
The most effortful forms of slow thinking are those that require you to think fast.
You surely observed as you performed Add-3 how unusual it is for your mind to work so hard.
We normally avoid mental overload by dividing our tasks into multiple easy steps, committing intermediate results to long-term memory or to paper rather than to an easily overloaded working memory. We cover long distances by taking our time and conduct our mental lives by the law of least effort.
Speaking of Attention and Effort
“I won’t try to solve this while driving. This is a pupil-dilating task. It requires mental effort!”
“The law of least effort is operating here. He will think as little as possible.”
“She did not forget about the meeting. She was completely focused on something else when the meeting was set and she just didn’t hear you.”
“What came quickly to my mind was an intuition from System 1. I’ll have to start over and search my memory deliberately.”
The Lazy Controller
System 2 also has a natural speed. You expend some mental energy in random thoughts and in monitoring what goes on around you even when your mind does nothing in particular, but there is little strain.
While walking comfortably with a friend, ask him to compute 23 × 78 in his head, and to do so immediately. He will almost certainly stop in his tracks.
Of course, not all slow thinking requires that form of intense concentration and effortful computation—I did the best thinking of my life on leisurely walks with Amos.
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced six-cent-mihaly) has done more than anyone else to study this state of effortless attending, and the name he proposed for it, flow, has become part of the language. People who experience flow describe it as “a state of effortless concentration so deep that they lose their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems,” and their descriptions of the joy of that state are so compelling that Csikszentmihalyi has called it an “optimal experience.”
Riding a motorcycle at 150 miles an hour and playing a competitive game of chess are certainly very effortful. In a state of flow, however, maintaining focused attention on these absorbing activities requires no exertion of self-control, thereby freeing resources to be directed to the task at hand.
The Busy and Depleted System 2
both self-control and cognitive effort are forms of mental work.
people who are simultaneously challenged by a demanding cognitive task and by a temptation are more likely to yield to the temptation.
System 1 has more influence on behavior when System 2 is busy.
People who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language, and make superficial judgments in social situations.
A few drinks have the same effect, as does a sleepless night. The self-control of morning people is impaired at night; the reverse is true of night people. Too much concern about how well one is doing in a task sometimes disrupts performance by loading short-term memory with pointless anxious thoughts.
The conclusion is straightforward: self-control requires attention and effort. Another way of saying this is that controlling thoughts and behaviors is one of the tasks that System 2 performs.
Baumeister’s group has repeatedly found that an effort of will or self-control is tiring; if you have had to force yourself to do something, you are less willing. The phenomenon has been named ego depletion.
experiment: people are first depleted by a task in which they eat virtuous foods such as radishes and celery while resisting the temptation to indulge in chocolate and rich cookies. Later, these people will give up earlier than normal when faced with a difficult cognitive task.
- avoiding the thought of white bears
- inhibiting the emotional response to a stirring film
- making a series of choices that involve conflict
- trying to impress others
- responding kindly to a partner’s bad behavior
indications of depletion:
- deviating from one’s diet
- overspending on impulsive purchases
- reacting aggressively to provocation
- persisting less time in a handgrip task
- performing poorly in cognitive tasks and logical decision making
Unlike cognitive load, ego depletion is at least in part a loss of motivation.
After exerting self-control in one task, you do not feel like making an effort in another, although you could do it if you really had to.
Ego depletion is not the same mental state as cognitive busyness.
The most surprising discovery made by Baumeister’s group shows, as he puts it, that the idea of mental energy is more than a mere metaphor.
When you are actively involved in difficult cognitive reasoning or engaged in a task that requires self-control, your blood glucose level drops.
The bold implication of this idea is that the effects of ego depletion could be undone by ingesting glucose.
tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default position of denying requests for parole.
The Lazy System 2
A bat and ball cost $1.10.
The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
we know a significant fact about anyone who says that the ball costs 10¢: that person did not actively check whether the answer was correct, and her System 2 endorsed an intuitive answer that it could have rejected with a small investment of effort.
A failure to check is remarkable because the cost of checking is so low: a few seconds of mental work, could avoid an embarrassing mistake.
People who say 10¢ appear to be ardent followers of the law of least effort. People who avoid that answer appear to have more active minds.
More than 50% of students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton ton gave the intuitive—incorrect—answer. At less selective universities, the rate of demonstrable failure to check was in excess of 80%.
many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.
Try to determine, as quickly as you can, if the argument is logically valid. Does the conclusion follow from the premises?
All roses are flowers.
Some flowers fade quickly.
Therefore some roses fade quickly.
Intelligence, Control, Rationality
If people were ranked by their self-control and by their cognitive aptitude, would individuals have similar positions in the two rankings?
They were to remain alone in a room, facing a desk with two objects: a single cookie and a bell that the child could ring at any time.
The experimenter left the room and did not return until 15 min had passed or the child had rung the bell, eaten the rewards, stood up, or shown any signs of distress.
The children were watched through a one-way mirror, and the film that shows their behavior during the waiting time always has the audience roaring in laughter. About half the children managed the feat of waiting for 15 minutes, mainly by keeping their attention away from the tempting reward.
Ten or fifteen years later, a large gap had opened between those who had resisted temptation and those who had not. The resisters had higher measures of executive control in cognitive tasks, and especially the ability to reallocate their attention effectively. As young adults, they were less likely to take drugs. A significant difference in intellectual aptitude emerged: the children who had shown more self-control as four-year-olds had substantially higher scores on tests of intelligence.
onth. Only 37% of those who solve all three puzzles correctly have the same shortsighted preference for receiving a smaller amount immediately. When asked how much they will pay to get overnight delivery of a book they have ordered, the low scorers on the Cognitive Reflection Test are willing to pay twice as much as the high scorers. Frederick’s findings suggest that the characters of our psychodrama have different “personalities.” System 1 is impulsive and intuitive; System 2 is capable of reasoning, and it is cautious, but at least for some people it is also lazy. We recognize related differences among individuals: some people are more like their System 2; others are closer to their System 1. This simple test has emerged as one of the better predictors of laztestors or thinking.
The core of his argument is that rationality should be distinguished from intelligence. In his view, superficial or “lazy” thinking is a flaw in the reflective mind, a failure of rationality.
Stanovich and his colleagues have found that the bat-and-ball question and others like it are somewhat better indicators of our susceptibility to cognitive errors than are conventional measures of intelligence, such as IQ tests.
Speaking of Control
“She did not have to struggle to stay on task for hours. She was in a state of flow.”
“His ego was depleted after a long day of meetings. So he just turned to standard operating procedures instead of thinking through the problem.”
“He didn’t bother to check whether what he said made sense. Does he usually have a lazy System 2 or was he unusually tired?”
“Unfortunately, she tends to say the first thing that comes into her mind. She probably also has trouble delaying gratification. Weak System 2.”