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Review of the book

Review of the book "Think fast, think slowly" by Daniel Kahneman

January 22, 2022

Think fast, think slowly is a book published in 2011 by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman (Tel Aviv, 1934). Currently, he is a professor of Psychology at Princeton University.

Specialist in cognitive psychology, the main contribution of Kahneman to the Economy consists of the development, next to Amos Tversky, of the denominated Theory of the perspectives (prospect theory), according to which individuals make decisions, in environments of uncertainty, that deviate from the basic principles of probability . These kinds of decisions were called heuristic shortcuts.

Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for ... Economy!

In 2002, together with Vernon Smith, He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for having integrated aspects of psychological research into economic science, especially as regards human judgment and decision making under uncertainty.

We recently included Daniel Kahneman in our ranking of the 12 most influential psychologists today. Being the only psychologist who has managed to win a Nobel Prize, his inclusion is more than deserved.

Think fast, think slowly: a compilation of your main ideas

In the book Think fast, think slowly, Kahneman synthesizes his research on the way of thinking of human beings . The author maintains the widely accepted thesis in current psychology about the two modes of thought: System 1, fast, intuitive and emotional, and the System 2, slower, reflective and rational.

The first provides conclusions automatically, and the second, conscious responses. The peculiar thing is that, in most of the occasions, we do not reflect on which of the two has taken the reins of our behavior.

A book divided into five thematic sections

The book is divided into five parts. In the first part, he presents how the two systems work and how judgments and decisions are made by both. The second part delves into the heuristic of the judgments and puts special emphasis on the difficulties of System 1 to think statistically. The third part focuses on the inability to recognize uncertainty and our own ignorance and overestimation of what we think we understand about the world around us.

The fourth part delves into the nature of economic decisions and proposes the theory of perspectives under the hypothesis of the two systems. In the fifth part of the book, Kahneman makes a distinction between what he calls "the self that experiences" (related to System 2) and "the self that remembers" (related to System 1). Sometimes the objective of happiness of both I leads to clearly opposed situations.

Finally, and in a kind of conclusion, the implications of the three distinctions made in the book are examined: I that he remembers facing I that it experiences, the decision making in the classic economy in front of the decision making in the behavioral economy, and the System 1 in front of the System 2.

Several considerations and reflections on this book

We can consider Kahneman's departure hypothesis extremely original and attractive. In my opinion, it extends the concepts of System 1 and System 2 to the totality of thought processes. This vision perfectly models the decision making of the "the first thing that has crossed my mind" in front of those decisions that we made after carefully reflecting. We can see an example of this in a simple problem that Kahneman himself raises:

A bat and a ball together cost $ 1.10

The bat costs $ 1 more than the ball

How much does the ball cost?

The immediate response is given by System 1:

The ball costs $ 0.10

Only an invocation to System 2 will give us the correct answer.

The System 1 and the System 2, a simple way to conceptualize thinking

Physiologically speaking, we could even postulate that the responses of System 1 emerge directly from the limbic system, naturally transformed and processed by the neocortical areas, while those of System 2 that imply a more elaborate processing (the intellectual-cognitive-reflexive) they could only be carried out in the most modern cortical areas located in the prefrontal frontal cortical zone.

This consideration would situate System 2 as a structure uniquely characteristic of higher animals, evolved as a complement to System 1.

Possible criticisms of Kahneman's work

The hypotheses of Kahneman could be labeled as overly simplistic and somewhat anthropocentric , but to little that we reflect, the analysis of the behavior under this point of view allows to explain a great number of reactions observed in the human behavior in general and in particular, in the decision making process that to a greater or lesser extent should be taken always in uncertainty environments.

The descriptions of the different hypotheses that appear in the book are, in my opinion, excessively repetitive and not very synthetic (they could really be described in a few paragraphs) and the author tries to prove their validity with the somewhat disorganized presentation of the results of a considerable number of experiments, that they do not always seem to be the most appropriate and some of which do not provide too consistent arguments .

Unfortunately, Kahneman does not delve too much into the processes of gestation and birth of the different hypotheses he presents, processes that would probably facilitate their assimilation by readers.

Between the academic and the commercial ...

The book It seems more conceived as an outreach book for the general public (in the line of a best-seller or a self-help book) that as a scientific work. The examples, experiments and particular cases appear profusely described, sometimes in a somewhat chaotic and disordered way and without a well-defined thread, illustrating various aspects of the presented dualities.

Despite its informative nature, the book is not exempt from scientific rigor. All the statements made and each one of the experiments are adequately referenced. At the end all the bibliographical references, the author's notes and also the conclusions are included.

The most interesting: the study on anchor effect

After reading it, one can not help feeling at the same time identified and surprised by some of the mental processes described in the book . The aversion to loss and the anchor effect seem particularly interesting. In the first, we are shown the natural tendency of people to avoid losing before winning profits. This leads to risk aversion when evaluating a possible gain, since then it is preferred to avoid a loss to receive a benefit.

The call anchor effect (or 'anchoring effect') tends to make us take as a reference the first offer (first data) that they have given us, mainly when we do not have complete and accurate information. It is also worth noting the effort made by Kahneman to numerically quantify the intensity of the anchor effect, a quantification that is not easy to perform in most psychological processes. The anchor effect is widely used in economical trading or marketing environments.

A book recommended to professionals and curious

In summary, it would be recommended to read this book not only to professionals of the psychological sciences but in general to anyone interested in getting to know themselves a little better , to deepen in the processes that determine their decisions and equip themselves with mechanisms that allow them to advance one more step on the road to their happiness.


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