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Thinking, Fast and Slow (Review)



Kahneman's analysis of thinking is close to a metatheory of human nature. In highly readable prose he explains how numerous psychological experiments document the interplay of two ways human brains process and act upon the myriad of stimuli encountered in daily life. Many reviews have extolled the brilliance of the book and its Nobel-prize winning author. My skeptical bias against excessive public endorsements was on high alert until I began to read. My copy has so many notes that it was hard to condense them for this review. I must confess this was one of the best psychology books I have ever read. I hope to show why readers of JPC will benefit from Kahneman's insights.
Within the social domain. Beck argues that the
principles of disgust that govern the physical
body can also be applied to the social body.
Just as the physical body has an inside and an
outside the social body can have insiders and
outsiders. Perhaps the most unfortunate exam-
ple of this distinction can be found in scape-
goating. There was a psychological reason why
many of the metaphors for Jewish individuals
within Nazi Germany invoked emotions of dis-
gust (e.g., connecting Jewish individuals with
Conveniently, scapegoating often feels
justified and righteous. Keep in mind the treat-
ment of some American Muslims following 9/11.
In this regard, the teachings of Christ on who is
our neighbor (captured in the parable of the
Good Samaritan) becomes especially enlighten-
ing. Just as we think differently about saliva in
our mouth and our spit in a cup, our thinking
shifts as we move from "us" to "them."
Then there is the existential domain, our own
mortality. Beck argues that death reminders can
serve as triggers for disgust. Anything associated
with physical dysfunction, disfigurement, and
death can invoke feelings of disgust. In part, this
connection may help to explain the challenge for
some Christians to think of Jesus Christ as fully
human. The scandal of the incarnation may be
in part that the holy now is associated with bodi-
ly elimination, body waste, and even death of the
body. There may be substantive psychological
reasons why it is hard for us to fully grasp Jesus
Christ as fully God and fully human.
So what should we do? Beck suggests that
one solution is to identify disgust psychology as
so potentially toxic to hospitality that the Chris-
tian church should abandon an emphasis upon
purity in order to embrace hospitality. Certain-
ly, the Matthew 9 passage seems to suggest that
Christ encouraged the Pharisees to downplay
purity and emphasize hospitality. Beck points
out that this is essentially the position of the
liberal Christian church. Loving God is mainly
about loving others. However, Beck argues for
trying to maintain the more challenging posi-
tion of embracing others and embracing holi-
In this regard. Beck would encourage the
Christian church to keep in mind how the psy-
chology of disgust can maneuver us into mak-
ing holiness trump.
But, Beck further argues God has not left us
adrift in this endeavor. For example, there is the
Eucharist. Beck suggests that in Holy Commu-
nion all the implications of disgust psychology
are addressed. We take in the body and blood
of Jesus Christ (symbolic or actual) while
acknowledging our sins amongst a group of sin-
We are made pure under conditions that
harness the worst of disgust psychology and
allow us to practice hospitality with other forgiv-
en sinners.
what are some of my reflections after read-
ing and thinking about this book? First, Richard
Beck knows how to write. Whether you agree
or not, you will enjoy the ride. Second, I some-
times wonder if Beck commits the error of
reductionism. After reading the book I was con-
vinced that disgust psychology does psychologi-
cally undergird our notions of purity. However,
is that all there is to this? Could disgust psychol-
ogy simply be part of a larger psychological pic-
ture? Third, I found myself wondering if the
potential for disgust resided in pre-fallen human-
ity. Regardless of how literally you take the
Genesis creation account it seems clear to me
that the introduction of evil into this world
revolved around human choice. But, I refuse to
believe that we were simply "set up." Primor-
dial humanity could have made a different
choice. Perhaps, if we had responded in anger
to the lies about God or if the "fruit" had evoked
disgust, then I might be a better man and I
might live in a better world. Finally, Beck some-
times surprised me. Beck acknowledged the
challenge of simultaneously embracing that
Christ is fully human and fully God and the
challenge of loving the sinner and hating the sin.
Both are perplexing because with both we strug-
gle against the same psychological riptide: dis-
gust psychology. Yet, Beck seems to assume
that we have hope appropriating the first
(regarding the Godhead) but not the second
(regarding personhood). Why?
It is clear that the Christian church struggles
with simultaneously seeking holiness and hospi-
tality. Most churches tend to consistently fall
into the ditch on one side of this road or the
other. Beck addresses the psychological reasons
behind why the Christian church regularly mud-
dies itself in one ditch or the other. And, insight
is good. But, Beck moves beyond insight to
some concrete suggestions regarding practice.
Seriously, you really should read this book.
man, Farar, Starus and Grioux, New York, NY,
Pp 499, Hb., $30.00. ISBN 978-0-874-27563-
Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton (Evangel Uni-
versity/ Springfleld, MO).
Kahneman's analysis of thinking is close to a
metatheory of human nature. In highly readable
prose he explains how numerous psychological
experiments document the interplay of two ways
human brains process and act upon the myriad
of stimuli encountered in daily life. Many
reviews have extolled the brilliance of the book
and its Nobel-prize winning author. My skepti-
cal bias against excessive public endorsements
was on high alert until I began to read. My copy
has so many notes that it was hard to condense
them for this review. I must confess this was
one of the best psychology books I have ever
read. I hope to show why readers of JPC will
benefit from Kahneman's insights.
Daniel Kahneman is Eugene Higgins Professor of
Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University and
Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus
at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public
and International Affairs. His work with Amos
Tversky on decision-making earned him the 2002
Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. If Amos had
not died in 1996, he would have shared the prize.
I have included two primary references (Kahne-
man & Tversky, 1984; Tversky & Kahneman, 1974)
cited by the Nobel committee as examples of
research articles you may wish to obtain.
Return to the title for a moment. The four
words aptly describe the way we think and the
sequence matters. Fast thinking is the norm. We
quickly orient to the sound of a loud bang. If it's
July 4* in the USA, we easily attribute the BOOM
to a partying neighbor rather than some
maker On a drive we speedily process a garish
image and a few inviting words written large on a
billboard. Almost without thinking, we detect a
hurt facial response in a partner and quickly
search available memory for an answer to the
internal prompt, "What did I say?" The second
concept in the title is slow thinking. Slotv think-
ing is that arduous process most of humanity
avoids most of each day. It is the thinking that
requires cognitive effort to focus carefully on a set
of stimuli whilst ignoring other internal and exter-
nal distractions so we can search memory and
employ other resources to solve a problem.
Sometimes the problems are not incredibly diffi-
cult but the answers do not quickly arise in our
consciousness like recalling our telephone num-
ber or slowing down and scanning more carefully
when guiding our car into a narrow parking slot.
The components of the thinking process appear
to be organized into these two major systems,
simply labeled System I and System
System I
is automatic and works well enough for most
daily activities. As Kahneman points out, it's not
practical to be vigilant all day. System II seems to
engage as needed to address more complex situa-
The effort required by System II does not
come easy and seems to slow down not just
thought, but the entire person as we might inter-
rupt a walk to formulate an answer to an unusual
question. This story of thinking unfolds in 38
chapters organizing diverse dimensions of condi-
tion into five parts: Two Systems, Heuristics and
Biases, Overconfldence, Choices, and Two Selves.
Most of us seem to get along pretty well most
of the time. But there are those moments when
mistakes are costly. Truth is, many decisions are
adequate but hardly based on reflned decision-
making models that employ logical analyses or
even well-defined probability models. Heuristics
and biases appear to account for the link
between thinking and human behavior. Our
propensity to respond based on available cues in
our environment or memory, to assess situations
based on plausible causes, and erroneously pre-
dict behavior can lead to signiflcant difflculties for
individuals, groups, or even nations. Part II offers
a broad review of these cognitive errors.
Overconfldence is the essence of Part III. Peo-
ple tend toward excessive optimism and overcon-
fldence. We experience illusions of understanding
and validity. We are prone to excessive and often
misplaced trust in experts. In Part IV, Kahneman
reviews choice theory, which he explains using
everyday examples. We leave this part of the nar-
rative better equipped to detect factors apt to lead
us astray. In Part V, Kahneman offers a helpful
review and leaves us with thoughts about life.
It is easy to see how Kahneman's work would
be of interest to academicians and researchers.
But the implications for psychotherapists are far
reaching and illustrate how hard it is to interrupt
error-prone cognitive-behavioral pattems to apply
some new cognitive frame or employ a new
behavioral response. Rituals and responses often
labeled as spiritual or religious appear to be Sys-
tem I responses except when interrupted by trou-
bling experiences that place our scripts on pause
and induce a search for resources. An awareness
of biases and the role of heuristics and overconñ-
dence are relevant to clinicians, clinical supervi-
consultants, and clients. There's a time for
System I and a time for System IL
Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (1985). Choices, values,
and frames. American
34, 571-582.
Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under
uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185,
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Many decisions are based on beliefs concerning the likelihood of uncertain events such as the outcome of an election, the guilt of a defendant, or the future value of the dollar. Occasionally, beliefs concerning uncertain events are expressed in numerical form as odds or subjective probabilities. In general, the heuristics are quite useful, but sometimes they lead to severe and systematic errors. The subjective assessment of probability resembles the subjective assessment of physical quantities such as distance or size. These judgments are all based on data of limited validity, which are processed according to heuristic rules. However, the reliance on this rule leads to systematic errors in the estimation of distance. This chapter describes three heuristics that are employed in making judgments under uncertainty. The first is representativeness, which is usually employed when people are asked to judge the probability that an object or event belongs to a class or event. The second is the availability of instances or scenarios, which is often employed when people are asked to assess the frequency of a class or the plausibility of a particular development, and the third is adjustment from an anchor, which is usually employed in numerical prediction when a relevant value is available.
We discuss the cognitive and the psy- chophysical determinants of choice in risky and risk- less contexts. The psychophysics of value induce risk aversion in the domain of gains and risk seeking in the domain of losses. The psychophysics of chance induce overweighting of sure things and of improbable events, relative to events of moderate probability. De- cision problems can be described or framed in multiple ways that give rise to different preferences, contrary to the invariance criterion of rational choice. The pro- cess of mental accounting, in which people organize the outcomes of transactions, explains some anomalies of consumer behavior. In particular, the acceptability of an option can depend on whether a negative outcome is evaluated as a cost or as an uncompensated loss. The relation between decision values and experience values is discussed. Making decisions is like speaking prose—people do it all the time, knowingly or unknowingly. It is hardly surprising, then, that the topic of decision making is shared by many disciplines, from mathematics and statistics, through economics and political science, to sociology and psychology. The study of decisions ad- dresses both normative and descriptive questions. The normative analysis is concerned with the nature of rationality and the logic of decision making. The de- scriptive analysis, in contrast, is concerned with peo- ple's beliefs and preferences as they are, not as they should be. The tension between normative and de- scriptive considerations characterizes much of the study of judgment and choice. Analyses of decision making commonly distin- guish risky and riskless choices. The paradigmatic example of decision under risk is the acceptability of a gamble that yields monetary outcomes with specified probabilities. A typical riskless decision concerns the acceptability of a transaction in which a good or a service is exchanged for money or labor. In the first part of this article we present an analysis of the cog- nitive and psychophysical factors that determine the value of risky prospects. In the second part we extend this analysis to transactions and trades. Risky Choice Risky choices, such as whether or not to take an umbrella and whether or not to go to war, are made without advance knowledge of their consequences. Because the consequences of such actions depend on uncertain events such as the weather or the opponent's resolve, the choice of an act may be construed as the acceptance of a gamble that can yield various out- comes with different probabilities. It is therefore nat- ural that the study of decision making under risk has focused on choices between simple gambles with monetary outcomes and specified probabilities, in the hope that these simple problems will reveal basic at- titudes toward risk and value. We shall sketch an approach to risky choice that