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A thin slice of your Automatic Brain

What happens next? You’re walking out of a building into the street and see a London bus swerving directly towards you … how about this one. You’re walking down a path when all of a sudden you trip up a pavement.

In both events it’s highly unlikely that you will think through all of your options. It’s improbable that you will consciously assess the situation and decide how to act. Yet despite no deliberate thought it is likely that you will act immediately.

Inside each of us is a super-computer that can automatically do thousands of calculations per second. What psychologists call our ‘system 1’ works quickly and quietly without awareness to both guide and dominate decision making. Just as a modern jet liner is able to fly with little input from the pilot, the subconscious mind has an instinctive auto-pilot to help us out.

If you think you think a lot then think again. You actually do about 20x more thinking in your unconscious system 1 brain that you’re never even aware of. It’s this arrangement that gives us seemingly super human abilities.

How would you answer the following question?

Imagine you’re in your first year of university – how long would it take you to assess how effective a teacher is? 10 minutes? Half an hour? A full term?

A psychological experiment from the 90’s showed different groups of students 10 second clips (with no sound) of their upcoming lecturers and asked them to rate how effective they believe they’d be.

The scores gained after just 10 seconds were found to be almost identical to ratings gained after a full term of teaching. This effect called ‘thin-slicing’ demonstrates our remarkable ability to make instantaneous judgements.

In fact they repeated the study with both 5 and 2 second clips and actually found the results were more predictive of full term assessments the shorter the clip. The more the experimenters forced the students to use their automatic brain the more accurate the judgement.

Thin slicing offers an explanation as to why speed dating works. It may also explain why the temporary photo sharing app ‘Snap Chat’ allows people to feel in touch despite only seeing short glimpses of each other’s lives.

It just goes to show that sometimes less really can be more.

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