Thin Slicing

Thin-slicing is the ability we develop, either unconsciously or with practice, to rapidly extract highly reliable patterns of information from tiny slivers of data (Shariff, 2006)]. Put another way, thin-slicing happens when we make snap judgments that can be more effective than deliberate thinking. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, tells the story of the 2500 year old statue the Getty Museum was evaluating for purchase. All of the scientific tests indicated authenticity. However a few experts, when first viewing the statue, felt that something about it was not quite right. The experts were correct.

These snap judgments have come under criticism. Since the Supreme Court judgment (Terry v. Ohio) that police officers could only detain a suspect when they could articulate the reasons for their hunch or intuition, the use of this skill of thin-slicing in the police force has been disallowed. Contrary to the US legal system, the cognitive sciences have given more and more weight to our ability to thin-slice.

"Emotions and intuitions are not obstacles to reason, but indispensable heuristic devices that allow people to process diffuse, complex information about their environment and make sense of the world" (Lerner). Lerner insists that our emotions and intuitions can be both reasonable and accurate.

We make snap decisions all the time. Whenever we meet a new person, we make a judgment on them based on what we "read" in their face. Faces rapidly communicate a host of complex and subtle messages, about identity, emotion and social signals that we can pick up immediately. These social judgments can be quite accurate (Chatting & Thorne). Speed Dating is a recent phenomenon that relies on accurate thin-slicing (Houser, Horan & Furler). Houser and her team designed an experiment to determine how successful that thin-slicing was. They report that the decisions made in the first 30 seconds of the "date" were often as "accurate, valuable, and predictive as cautious and deliberately made" decisions (p.78). Other groups have reached the same conclusion (Thomas).

The ideal situations for thin slicing are:

  • when engaged in tasks which rely heavily on judgment
  • when those making the judgment are experienced or skilled in their area
  • when judgments are made in situations providing good feedback\
  •  when the judgmental tasks have stable rules (Hogarth). \

Malcolm Gladwell continues on to talk about thin-slicing in different contexts. He suggests that we lack conscious awareness of our own judgmental processes. However, we can learn when to trust our instincts and when we should be wary of them. Once we are aware of thin-slicing we can educate and control our snap judgments and first impressions and come to trust them more and more (Hogarth & Schoemaker, 2005).

One way we can improve judgment in a specific application is by eliminating irrelevant, distracting cues. That is where Ezidoesit can help you: it eliminates unnecessary clutter from your inbox so that you can focus on the tasks you have already prioritized.

But you can use the concept of thin-slicing when you prioritize your emails into the Elevator Bar. You often intuitively "know" whether an email request from a specific person is going to be high or low priority for you. If you use thin-slicing to prioritize those emails, you gain even more time to work on the tasks.

But what if your intuition lets you down and you have dropped a high priority email request onto the low priority section of the Elevator Bar? That’s not a problem. As soon as you realise the task requires a higher priority, simply change the priority of the task.

The point is: in areas of your work you are the expert and you can trust your intuition. Make use of that by thin-slicing emails onto the Elevator Bar, leaving you more time for doing the work.

K. Renner BA. MA Psych (Hons) References

  • Chatting,D.J.& Thorne,J.M. Faces as Content. The Future Content Group, Broadband Applications Research Centre, BT Group, plc.
  • Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York: Little, Brown, & Co.
  • Hogarth, R. M. & Schoemaker, P. J. H. (2005). Beyond Blink: A Challenge to Behavioral Decision Making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 18(4), 305-309.
  • Houser, M.L.,Horan, S.M.& Furler, L.A. Predicting Relational Outcomes:An Investigation of Thin Slice Judgments in Speed Dating. Human Communication, 10 (2), 69 –81.
  • Lerner, C.S. George Mason University - School of Law
  • Shariff, A. (2006). Review of Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. Canadian Psychology Psychologie Canadienne. Vol 47(3), 232-233
  • Thomas, G. (2007). Preparing facilitators for experiential education: The role of intentionality and intuition. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.