Thinking Fast and Slow Notes (Part 1)

Jan. 5, 2020

Thinking: Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman, 2011 Thinking Fast And Slow


The following are sections and ideas in condensed form that I found particularly salient.

Part 1 - Two Systems

Our mental lives our ruled by the law of least effort. System 1 is the automatic, intuitive, quick decision mind

  • ●  2+2=?

  • ●  Drive a car

  • ●  Form first impressions

  • ●  Detect tone of voice (hostility, kindness, sadness, etc.)

  • ●  Complete the phrase, “Turn water into...”

  • ●  Read large words on a billboard

  • ●  Assign stereotypes

  • ●  Orient ourselves to a source of a surprising sound

    In contrast, System 2 is called upon for more elaborate mental process, when System 1 is insufficient or untrusted.

  • ●  17x23=?

  • ●  Drive a submarine

  • ●  Monitor the appropriateness of your social behavior

  • ●  Count the occurrences of a certain letter on this page

  • ●  Read a research paper

  • ●  Treat somebody without regard to a stereotype

  • ●  Prevent ourselves from orienting to a source of a surprising sound.

    System 2 requires cognitive effort and self control, but our minds are inherently lazy. We tend rely on System 1 when it can provide a valid answer to a question or problem.


    We are not always averse to cognitive effort though. Flow, “A state of effortless concentration so deep that we lose sense of time, self, and problems” occurs when we dedicate significant mental resource towards a task that we excel at. Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi coined this term after examining artists who would become so immersed in their work that they lost regard to time, hunger, and sleep. It is often referred to as “optimal experience” and can be seen in many activities from work (authors, mechanics), to sports, to art, to religion.

Mental work (the realm of System 2) requires cognitive effort and self control. When one is taxed, the other become weak. Somebody who is cognitively busy is more likely to be selfish, superficial, sexist, and to succumb to temptation. Self control takes effort.

Ego Depletion =
Weakening of self control in the face of rising cognitive load.

Priming Effect = Thought primes behavior. An inspector is primed to find flaws, so he does. “Lady Macbeth Effect” is a priming effect which induces the desire to clean in the face of personal shame.

Ideomotor Effect = A type of priming where a kind of idea produces a similar kind of action. “The Florida Effect” found that when people were exposed to words assciated with the elderly: forgetful, old, bald, gray, they walked more slowly than a group who was not exposed.

“Act calm and kind regardless of how you feel” - You are actually more likely to BE calm and kind.

Tips for Persuasive Writing

  • ●  Maximize legibility (bold font). this reducesc ognitive strain when reading

  • ●  Bright blue and red are more believable colors than middle shades of green, yellow, pale


  • ●  Simpler language breeds credibility and intelligence.

  • ●  Put your ideas in verse for a more message judged more memorable and insightful.

    Mere Exposure Effect - Being exposed to something makes it more familiar to you

  • ●  Repetition breeds familiarity .

  • ●  Companies with readily pronouncable names and stock tickers outperform those that do

    not in first week of an IPO.

  • ●  University of Michigan student newspaper ran anonymous ads for a few weeks with

    Turkish words. Readers judged words more favorably (“means something good” vs.

    “means something bad”) if the word appeared in the ad spot with more frequency.

  • ●  Effect also applies in studies with human faces.

    Creativity is finely-tuned associative memory, made possible by repetition.

The Halo Effect - The tendency to like or dislike everything about a person - including what has not been observed - based on first impression of other unrelated experience or knowledge.

  • ●  New people, first impressions

    • ○  Alan is intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, evious (more positive


    • ○  Ben is envious, stubborn critical impulsive, industrious, intelligent (more negative


  • ●  Politicians - I like his politics, which causes me to like his suit, like his voice, like

    everything about him!

  • ●  Grading Tests - If essay #1 was excellent, #2 gets graded higher (if graded in


  • ●  Open Discussion favors those who talk early and assertively. A more accurate way to

    gather the opinion of a group would be to confidentially poll the group before any discussion.

    Treat evidence as independent - What You See Is All There Is

    Making a Judgement

    1. Basic Assessment - Is this person a threat? Can I trust this person? Does she/he look competent? (Dominance and Trustworthiness).

      Facial cues - Strong chin + confident smile yields better ratings of competence.

    2. Intensity Matching - Matching relative values across diverse dimension.

      Julie read fluently when she was four years old.
      How tall is a man who is as tall as Julie was precocious?
      What level of income in your profession matches Julie’s reading achievement? What crime is as severe as Julie is precocious?

    3. Mental Shotgun - Excess computation Do these words rhyme?

      (1) VOTE-NOTE (2) VOTE-GOAT

      We know that (1) ryhmes faster than we know that (2) rhymes because our mind also computer the spelling of the words.

    4. Substitution = Answering a hard question by substituting it with an easier question that is related. Uses intensity matching and mental shotgunning to accomplish this.


(1) How much would you contribute to save an endangered species? substitute (2) - How much emotion do I feel about dying dolphins?

(1) How happy are you with your life?
substitute (2) - How happy am I right now?

(1) How popular will the president be in six months?
substitute (2) - How popular is the president right now?

(1) How should financial advisers who prey on elderly be punished?
substitute (2) - How much anger do I feel when I think about financial predators?

Mental Shotgun provides the answers for (2). Intensity Matching relates it back to (1).

Present state of mind looms very large when people evaluate their happiness level.

Paul Slovic’s Affect Heuristic - People let their likes and dislikes determine their beliefs about the world. Good examples include nuclear power, motorcycles, political preference, and tattoos. How we like or dislike these things drives how we respond to statistics of their benefits and risks.