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Thin Slicing our daily life

Updated on February 22, 2012

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is a really interesting book about how our instinctive reactions can be correct in many instances. Based on the assumption that our first impression is often the right impression, the theory of thin slicing has wide ranging applications right from identifying a fake statue to taking job interviews and doing speed dating.

Thin Slicing is a term which is used both in Philosophy as well as in Psychology to describe a person’s ability to find patterns through very small windows of interaction or experience with such events. Thin slicing is not only related with finding patterns in events but in persons too as psychological implications of the concept can help us to know about unknown persons we meet just in an instant.

Psychologists conducted many experiments where complete strangers were able to identify different aspects of a personality in first meeting. In one such experiment, psychologists gathered four different individuals who were completely unknown to each other and they were successful in identifying the degree of extroversion of each other. Such accuracy in identifying the personal traits of person is often possible because our brain makes rapid adjustments and makes the first impression which is often right.

We are living in an era where time is the most precious commodity as we have to do many things in limited time available to us. To use this time in most optimum manner, many different approaches have been created to better utilize our time. Speed dating is just one innovation to find our potential partner by dating with 10 to 12 dates in quick successions for just few minutes. Speed dating therefore has now been accepted as one of the most practical ways of initiating a relationship and deciding whether one wants to go into a future relationship or not. Thin slicing has also been used extensively in speed dating situations too wherein theory of thin slicing has allowed many of us to decide in an instant whether the person we are meeting is trying to flirt with us or the person really likes us.

Our brain is so powerful that it can identify the subtle hints from the verbal as well as non-verbal expressions of a person even if the person has been back-biting about us. Thin slicing has been considered as so powerful tool that it can actually shape our reactions and attitude towards others. One important application of thin slicing is in human resource management. When managers decide about the performance of the subordinates, they often carry that assessment as the personal character assessment of a person apprised too. What is so critical that such attitudes and expressions can be spotted from our next interactions with our subordinates and if they are aware enough they can easily thin slice our behavior and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Thin slicing is also often used during negotiations where managers deliberately thin slice the first five minutes of interactions with other delegates and predict the outcome of the negotiations. If you are a manager and interviewing the next candidate to fix the salary contract, do use thin slicing to know whether you will be able to convince the candidate to agree on the same salary to work for you.

Your children even have the ability to know whether the teacher who is going to teach them for next term will be a successful teacher or not. A study conducted by Nalini Ambady- the original originator of the term thin slicing, suggested that even those students who do not attend the class of a particular teacher can actually rate the teacher almost in same category as actually rated by the students who took the classes.

It is however not the case always that our first impression can be as accurate as our well thought assessment and judgment about a person. Many serial killers otherwise looked normal individuals and went undetected for years to continue to kill their targets. There is also a cautionary note here suggesting that our first impressions can only be right on the aggregate basis. When accuracy is discussed within the context of thin slicing, it is the average of the aggregate of the judgments which matters most.

Our ability to thin slice is also affected by the way we feel at that moment because our happiness and sadness at that moment often influence the outcome. If at the moment of making a judgment about a person, we are in happy mood, chances are that our judgment will be relatively correct however if we are feeling sad, we might judge incorrectly. Cross cultural influences are important too and a Chinese person may very well give an entirely different judgment than an American.

Theory of thin slicing is an interesting concept allowing us to follow our gut and give importance to our ability to judge. So next time if you are on a speed date, be rest assured that you can be discarded in just first few moments so be prepared when moment arrives.


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    • adnanmanzoor profile image

      Adnan Manzoor 6 years ago from Manchester

      Its all about perception and how we can exercise it rightly at a particular moment. I agree with you that we need to see a person in different background and then judge him because it can provide us more time for developing our true insight about that person.

    • fornalina profile image

      Katarzyna Silny 6 years ago from Poznan, Poland

      I don't trust first impressions. I've been proven wrong several times and now I take longer time to judge a person. I think that first you have to see a person in few different background and then judge him.