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Katy Sirota

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Katy Sirota
Ms. Ward
AP English Language and Composition
27 April 2009

       Argumentative Research Paper based on Blink (2005) by Malcolm Gladwell

Section I: Introduction and Context

       The mind is the most powerful attribute of the human body. It counteracts any

decision-making situation at hand. Malcolm Gladwell meticulously explores the

strategies of conscious and unconscious thinking. Blink (2005), The Power of Thinking

Without Thinking, is a worthy read that compels his audience to evaluate the acquired

mind and distinguish between good and bad decision-making. Gladwell argues that the

ability of “just knowing “ is more beneficial rather than processing developed

information over a course of time. By integrating examples of his arguments, Gladwell

incorporates understandable and easy to follow word choice that the reader is able to

comprehend. The reader is able to compare Gladwell‟s theories with particular

experiences that occur in one„s life. A main argument Gladwell discusses is the theory of

thin slicing: making quick decisions with little amounts of information. Throughout the

entire book, he argues the reliability of thin slicing, although, Gladwell‟s interpretation of

“thin slicing” seems outrageous when he describes the ability to understand a marriage in

one sitting (along with his other arguments). Overall, this book is an anomalous way of

emphasizing the power of instant decision-making. It appeals to the reader‟s mind,

informing one, the importance of incorporating unconscious decision-making into

everyday life.

Section II: The Author‟s Background

       Malcolm Gladwell, at first glace, is an odd character with a rather large afro. His
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afro is what sparked the idea for Blink. Being pulled out of airport security lines, being

mistaken for a rapist, and continually receiving speeding tickets - all because of his hair

style. Gladwell took his personal experiences in producing further research for Blink.

Graduating with a history degree from the University of Toronto, Gladwell covered

science and business in the “Washington Post” for nine years before later becoming an

employee for “New Yorker” magazine as a freelance writer (Flanagan). The ability to

combine personal experience with science and history gives Gladwell the authority to

psychologically examine why and how individuals make snap judgments. In 2005,

Gladwell was one of Time Magazine‟s top one-hundred influential people, stating his

“effortless prose and knack for storytelling have made him the U.S.‟s leading pop

sociologist” (Time Magazine). The main argument, making an equally good decision on

the spot rather than developing a rational one over time, could be biased by real scientists

who completely understand the function of the brain, using factual, scientific evidence.

The first book Gladwell wrote, The Tipping Point, psychologically explores how trends

work and why change occurs quickly and abruptly. His most recent book, Outliers,

establishes deep reasons why some individuals are more successful than others. All three

of his books provides insight on the harsh reality of the world; it answers the how and

why questions. The success and popularity of The Tipping Point is a logical reason why

Gladwell was influenced to write another book pertaining split second decision-making.

The personal experiences, job opportunities, and education provide Gladwell with a

credible source of information given.

       Throughout Blink, Gladwell incorporates a countless and sufficient amount of

evidence or examples. An IAT (Implicit Association Test) self-test is used created by
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Anthony G. Greenwald to test conscious play in one‟s behavior and beliefs; a fifteen

minute interview by psychologist, John Gottman from the University of Washington,

with a married couple, Bill and Sue, to reveal the future of their marriage; he conveys

how one musician/talent scout can decipher whether a single song will work with his

label or blow him away by listening to the first five to ten seconds. Including these

examples exemplifies the credibility of Malcolm Gladwell, making his reasons for

writing, reliable.

Section III: The Book‟s Argument

        Gladwell intends to prove to the reader that making snap judgments is just as

valuable as developing a decision over time. To accomplish this, he incorporates three

arguments to support his main statement: first, quickly made decisions are just as

valuable as decisions made “cautiously and deliberately”; second, “when our powers of

rapid cognition go awry, they go awry for a very specific and consistent set of reasons”

(15); and snap judgments and first impressions developed can be controlled and educated

by an individual. Gladwell incorporates numerous rhetorical strategies in order for his

arguments to be perceived as rational.

        Throughout Blink, Gladwell proves three different arguments that support the

statement of the “power of thinking without thinking”. The first argument presented is

that quickly made decisions are just as valuable as decisions made cautiously and

meticulously (which is his main argument). Immediately, Gladwell supports his argument

in his introduction chapter by explaining how one kouros, a Greek sculpture dated from

the sixth century BC (The Getty Museum), was sought to be a forgery of the actual

sculpture by Frederico Zeri, Evelyn Harrison, Thomas Hoving, and Georgios Dontas. All
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with different occupations, they observed the statue to be a fake, fraudulent, and fictitious

work of “art”. In presenting his argument, Gladwell proceeds by explaining how and why

these quickly made decisions work thoroughly and are not just fictional accusations of

decision making. By demonstrating the marriage predictions (as previously stated) John

Gottman proposes, Gladwell states that he “is far more selective. He has found that he

can find out much of what he needs to know just by focusing on what he calls the Four

Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt” (32). After stating

Gottman‟s theories, Gladwell uses those theories to incorporate his overall argument:

thin-slicing is just as reliable as decisions made over time. Following his reasons,

Gladwell inserts the word “you”, incorporating the reader in his evidentiary support when

stating, “imagine that you are considering me for a job” (34), which enables the reader to

possibly prove his argument. The reader is now able to place themselves in another‟s

shoes to see how Gladwell‟s theory will work.

       To add to his first argument, Gladwell includes the second task of Blink which is

to explain that “when our powers of rapid cognition go awry, they go awry for a very

specific and consistent set of reasons” (15), whereas Gladwell clarifies that those reasons

have the capability be to identified and understood. There are times when the speedy

process of knowing goes astray, and those times happen for a particular reason. In detail,

Gladwell then presents an example of how one of the world‟s top prestigious tennis

coaches, Vic Braden, predicted the outcome of every serve while watching a tennis

match. Braden states, “for a while it got so bad that I got scared” (49). However, Braden

gradually became frustrated since he had no idea how he knows these outcomes.

Explaining Braden‟s frustrations, Gladwell exclaims that “snap judgments and rapid
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cognition take place behind a lock door” (51), in which causes one to continue solving

the question as to why rapid cognition occurs. After presenting his evidence and theories

behind his second argument, Gladwell includes a “scrambled-sentence test” to show just

how much goes behind the locked door of one‟s unconsciousness.

        Continuing with his arguments, Gladwell further investigates the art of thin-

slicing by proposing that snap judgments and first impressions made can be controlled

and educated by an individual. He insists that individuals can teach themselves to make

better judgments. Gladwell provides the reader with a Race IAT (implicit association

test) that makes the reader place names under certain categories such as male or career,

female or family or groups such as European American or bad or African American of

good. Even when not racist, placing certain pictures and names under categories is

difficult to imagine. On the surface it appears one is being racist, when really it is how

the unconscious brain works. Gladwell stresses that “just because something is outside of

awareness does not mean it is outside of control” (96).

        When exemplifying his arguments, Gladwell uses an obvious amount of

anecdotes that can prove his thin-slicing theory (or even prove one wrong). In every

chapter there are numerous examples that support his arguments. There are psychologists,

doctors, generals, coaches, furniture designers, musicians, actors, car salesmen who all

share their unconscious reactions to specific occurrences in their life. Exemplifying these

types of people, shows the reader the sort of range in people who experience unconscious

decision making. They only have one particular thing in common: the unconscious ability

to thin-slice.

        Gladwell incorporates his anecdotes in his type of organizational pattern: process
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analysis. At first he presents his topic, followed by an example. Once a short synopsis on

the occurrence, he includes the examiner‟s point of view followed by his overview and

statements supporting the examples and arguments. Not only does Gladwell use

anecdotes to achieve his purpose, but he also appeals to logic. He uses clear reasons for

his claims with strong evidence such as the Pepsi‟s Challenge of the 1980‟s. According to

chapter five, the Pepsi Company ran commercials advertising for Coke drinkers to choose

between two glasses marked Q and M. Preferably, the M was chosen more than Q was.

Ultimately, the beverage marked M was Pepsi; 57 percent of those tasters preferred Pepsi

(156). Coca Cola went back to the drawing boards, attempting to re-create a new

ingredient, later named “New Coke” (157). Pepsi was defeated by New Coke – six to

eight percent (157). New Coke eventually failed in popularity, making Pepsi‟s taste value

increase. Providing this specific type of evidence shows how “complicated it is to find

out what people really think” (158), as Gladwell states. Including anecdotes, facts,

statistics, is what produces the logical appeal; it attracts and convinces the audience of

Gladwell‟s theory by simply applying logic.

       Alongside using anecdotes to fascinate the audience, Gladwell incorporates word

choice that is everyday language, yet is said with sophistication - a small advancement

above colloquial language. Appealing to one audience is not the case for Gladwell;

because of his understandable word choice, a variety of ages, genders, races have the

capability to accept Gladwell‟s thinking. Gladwell concludes a section by stating, “Every

moment – every blink – is composed of a series of discrete moving parts, and every one

of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction”

(241); which exemplifies an intricate meaning towards the relevance of “blink”. By
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attracting various ages, genders, and races through his word choice, Gladwell is able to

discuss his theory of thin-slicing, amongst all individuals, self consciously.

       In order to compose a thorough argument, having the knowledge of the opposing

view is crucial and exhibits that one knows both sides of the argument; Gladwell

formulates an opposing view containing the unfortunate side of thin-slicing. In 1899, two

men met while having their shoes shined: Harry Daugherty and Warren Harding (72).

Harding‟s eyes, heavy black hair, masculine voice, and his generous attitude, made

Daugherty believe that Harding would make a great president, simply based on his looks

(72). After Senator Harding became candidate Harding, he ultimately became President

Harding. Before he unexpectedly died of a stroke, Harding “was one of the worst

presidents in American history” (75); for example, neglecting to attend debates on

Prohibition and women‟s suffrage (74) and having scandals of his administration (The

White House). Daugherty repeatedly stated the fact that Harding looked like a great

president, not because of his eloquence or intelligence, but simply because he looked the

part. Making a snap judgment off of a first impression can lead to a downfall. Gladwell

states that “the Warren Harding error is the dark side of rapid cognition” (76), proving

that composing an instantaneous judgment does not always implement a positive

solution.

Section IV: Opposing Points of View

       When Blink hit stores in 2005, there was an obvious assumption of individuals

who would argue against Gladwell‟s theory of snap judgments and thin-slicing. The

entire book overflows with anecdotes to prove his theories. However, those theories of

thin-slicing and snap judgments are not based on fact. The anecdotes might prove his
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arguments, but it is only one or two coincidental stories that prove it.

       David Brooks from the New York Times, argues Gladwell‟s credibility of his

anecdotes stating, “in some of his stories, it‟s regular people who are making snap

judgment; in others, it‟s experts who have been through decades of formal training”,

showing the contradictory individuals who are exemplified. Providing evidence from a

random couple, whose marriage is predictable just from a brief sit-in (18), causes the

reader to question the credibility. Knowing precisely how a man and a woman‟s marriage

will become eventually sprouts questions. Just because one was able to predict the future

of a marriage does not mean the probability of others can do the same.

       Brooks also believes that sometimes “the snap judgments are based on methodical

reasoning…in others, the snap-judgment process is formless and instinctive”. Providing

two different sets of reasoning contributes to an inconsistency in the anecdotes. It merely

shows how one set of anecdote can be detailed and more evidentiary than boring and

aimless which cannot transform the readers into “paragons of successful, instant decision

makers” (Norton). The one example Brooks disagrees with is when Gladwell

continuously refers back to the fact that “our brains are like computers – uniform pieces

of hardware that can be tested and reverse-engineered by scientists or psychologists in a

lab”, arguing that our brain is not just a tool that is examined, there are essential

fundamentals to our brain that are not psychologically based (Brooks).

       The process of thin-slicing is a main reason for an opposition of the book.

Michael LeGault believes that “critical thinking plays a significant role in our physical

and mental well-being”, in which this theory is explained in his book, Think!: Why

Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye. When one can no longer think
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effectively and efficiently and attains a consensus about the naked truth of reality then

one is incapable of having the ability to administer them (Burkhardt). LeGault‟s critical

thinking theory differentiates with Gladwell‟s theory, criticizing Gladwell in that “Mr.

Gladwell only looks at one side of decision-making without taking into account the

critical-thinking process”; which proves that making a decision over time is more

valuable than snap judgments (Widhalm).

Section V: Conclusion

       Throughout the entire book, Gladwell uses anecdotes to contribute to his process

of thin-slicing. There are six long chapters that deeply psychologically analyze the brain

and how one uses conscious decision making. By incorporating rhetorical strategies with

his arguments, Gladwell endeavors his own style in order to appeal to his audience.

       Gladwell‟s three arguments may convey an everlasting impression on readers that

can transform their way of living. However, while his arguments may appear valid, his

reasoning to support those arguments can be shaky. While some individuals in his stories

are average people, others are professionals who have been educated on a certain subject

(Brooks). Although Gladwell‟s anecdotes appear to be strong and detailing, the validity

causes questioning.

       While his anecdotes spark questions, his anecdotes are also controversial. All of

Gladwell‟s reasoning is based purely on observation and a few individuals‟ stories;

nothing is based on fact. Containing anecdotes provides a reason as to why “decisions

made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and

deliberately” (14); not to support a fact.

       As previously stated, Gladwell graduated from the University of Toronto with a
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degree in history (Flanagan). If he graduated with four years of historical knowledge,

what makes Gladwell credible? His major in history is irrelevant as to writing a book

pertaining the psychology field. Although there are some historical sequences in Blink,

however, they are nothing to be learned in history class. Gladwell may be a smart man

who knows what he is discussing; however, receiving a degree from history does not

justify his being of a psychologist.

        However, Gladwell‟s ability to appeal to a wide audience is astronomical.

Because of his word choice, he is able to make the book an appropriate read for all ages.

Not only does it contribute to the list of rhetorical strategies, but it also contributes to his

overall tone. The tone in Blink generates the reader‟s emotions. Blink may cause one to

feel calm and curious. Gladwell does an exquisite job to make the reader feel relaxed and

the inability to feel confused.
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Section VI: Works Cited

Brooks, David. “„Blink‟: Hunch Power.” New York Times. 16 Jan. 2005. 11 Feb. 2009.

       <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/16/books/review/16COVERBR.html?_r=1.>

Burkhardt, Vern. “Don‟t Blink, Think.” Idea Connection. 2008. 14 Feb. 2009.

       <http://www.ideaconnection.com/articles/00018-Don't-Blink-Think.html>.

Norton, Richard. “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Book Review”.

       Naval War College. 2005. 11 Feb. 2009.

       <http://www.nwc.com.navy.mil/press/Review/2006/winter/br10-w06.htm>.

Ratnesar, Romesh. “Scientists & Thinkers: Malcolm Gladwell.” Time Magazine. 2005.

       21 Feb. 2009.

       <http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/2005/time100/scientists/100gladwell.html

       >.

Widhalm, Shelley. “„Blink‟ versus „Think‟.” The Washington Times 1 Feb 2006.

       Michael Legault Official Website. 25 Apr. 2009.

       <http://www.michaellegault.com/PDFfiles/Washington_Times_02%5B1%5D.02.

       06_Scan.pdf>.

				
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