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
Section II: The Author‟s Background
Malcolm Gladwell, at first glace, is an odd character with a rather large afro. His
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
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
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
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
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
Gladwell incorporates his anecdotes in his type of organizational pattern: process
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Section VI: Works Cited
Brooks, David. “„Blink‟: Hunch Power.” New York Times. 16 Jan. 2005. 11 Feb. 2009.
Burkhardt, Vern. “Don‟t Blink, Think.” Idea Connection. 2008. 14 Feb. 2009.
Norton, Richard. “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Book Review”.
Naval War College. 2005. 11 Feb. 2009.
Ratnesar, Romesh. “Scientists & Thinkers: Malcolm Gladwell.” Time Magazine. 2005.
21 Feb. 2009.
Widhalm, Shelley. “„Blink‟ versus „Think‟.” The Washington Times 1 Feb 2006.
Michael Legault Official Website. 25 Apr. 2009.