Excerpt of Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
(Page 7 of 12)
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"You would think that criticism would be the worst," Gottman says, "because criticism is a global condemnation of a person's character. Yet contempt is qualitatively different from criticism. With criticism I might say to my wife, You never listen, you are really selfish and insensitive.' Well, she's going to respond defensively to that. That's not very good for our problem solving and interaction. But if I speak from a superior plane, that's far more damaging, and contempt is any statement made from a higher level. A lot of the time it's an insult: You are a bitch. You're scum.' It's trying to put that person on a lower plane than you. It's hierarchical."
Gottman has found, in fact, that the presence of contempt in a marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or a wife gets; in other words, having someone you love express contempt toward you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of your immune system. "Contempt is closely related to disgust, and what disgust and contempt are about is completely rejecting and excluding someone from the community. The big gender difference with negative emotions is that women are more critical, and men are more likely to stonewall. We find that women start talking about a problem, the men get irritated and turn away, and the women get more critical, and it becomes a circle. But there isn't any gender difference when it comes to contempt. Not at all." Contempt is special. If you can measure contempt, then all of a sudden you don't need to know every detail of the couple's relationship.
I think that this is the way that our unconscious works. When we leap to a decision or have a hunch, our unconscious is doing what John Gottman does. It's sifting through the situation in front of us, throwing out all that is irrelevant while we zero in on what really matters. And the truth is that our unconscious is really good at this, to the point where thin-slicing often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and exhaustive ways of thinking.
4. The Secrets of the Bedroom
Imagine that you are considering me for a job. You've seen my résumé and think I have the necessary credentials. But you want to know whether I am the right fit for your organization. Am I a hard worker? Am I honest? Am I open to new ideas? In order to answer those questions about my personality, your boss gives you two options. The first is to meet with me twice a week for a yearto have lunch or dinner or go to a movie with meto the point where you become one of my closest friends. (Your boss is quite demanding.) The second option is to drop by my house when I'm not there and spend half an hour or so looking around. Which would you choose?
The seemingly obvious answer is that you should take the first option: the thick slice. The more time you spend with me and the more information you gather, the better off you are. Right? I hope by now that you are at least a little bit skeptical of that approach. Sure enough, as the psychologist Samuel Gosling has shown, judging people's personalities is a really good example of how surprisingly effective thin-slicing can be.
Gosling began his experiment by doing a personality workup on eighty college students. For this, he used what is called the Big Five Inventory, a highly respected, multi-item questionnaire that measures people across five dimensions:
- Extraversion. Are you sociable or retiring? Fun-loving or reserved?
- Agreeableness. Are you trusting or suspicious? Helpful or uncooperative?
- Conscientiousness. Are you organized or disorganized? Self-disciplined or weak willed?
- Emotional stability. Are you worried or calm? Insecure or secure?
- Openness to new experiences. Are you imaginative or down-to-earth? Independent or conforming?
Then Gosling had close friends of those eighty students fill out the same questionnaire.
This is the full text of Chapter 1 of Blink (pages 18-47). Copyright © 2005 by Malcolm Gladwell. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Little, Brown & Co.