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Ramblings on Fast and Slow Thinking February 29, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Behavior.
Tags: , , , , , ,

I am currently reading a book about how we think. The recently published book is titled “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and was written by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. From the book, I want to illustrate what psychologists call ‘System 1‘ and ‘System 2‘. These two systems control our thoughts and reactions in ways I find very interesting.

Briefly, each system can be described as :

System 1 – Fast. Automatic, intuitive and quick with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. Detects simple relations. If we are uncomfortable and unhappy, we lose touch with our intuition.
Some examples of what System 1 does automatically :

  • Detect that one object is more distant than the other.
  • Orient to the source of a sudden sound.
  • Detect hostility in a voice.

System 2 – Slow. Follows rules. Deals with the mental activities that demand attention. Performs complex computations and is associated with subjective experience. Monitor and control the thoughts and actions that are suggested by System 1. Allows some of those to be expressed in behavior and suppresses or modifies others.
Examples of System 2 in action :

  • Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room.
  • Search memory to identify a surprising sound.
  • Tell someone your phone number.

To illustrate how the two systems work, consider the following puzzle :

A baseball and bat together cost $1.10.

The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

Instantly, you think of a number. As Kahneman writes, “The number, of course, is 10… The distinctive mark of this puzzle is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing and wrong.” This is System 1 in action.
He explains that “If the ball cost 10 cents, then the total cost would be $1.20… not $1.10.”

With a bit of effort, System 2 shows what the answer is. The ball cost $.05. If you were able to resist the intuitive response, you determined the correct answer.

This is a great illustration of the two systems working. Kahneman describes it as “…our tendency to answer questions with the first answer that comes to mind.”

System 2 is lazy. It can work out an answer but defers to System 1. The book expands on how each system works and their interactions.  Other topics Kahneman cover include biases, choices and overconfidence.  I’m still reading, and learning from, this book. I look forward to further insight about our thought process and how it influences our choices. As I can, I will share other learnings on topics along with my thoughts in a future post.

Until then, keep thinking. Fast, and slow. 😉


1. Thad Grabler - March 6, 2012

I believe you have mentioned some very interesting details , thankyou for the post.

Edwin Ritter - March 7, 2012

Thanks, Thad. Glad you enjoyed the post. I also found the topics of priming and mood influence interesting. Seems like managers should learn to effectively use these to improve team performance. We all know people work better when they are happy.

2. vbulletin skins - March 22, 2012

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Edwin Ritter - April 5, 2012

Thanks for reading my blog and for your comments.

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