Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments center around an idea he calls “thin-slicing. ” Thin-slicing is the concept that our unconscious can take lightning-quick bits of experiences and use preconceived notions about behaviors and situations to interpret them. Our unconscious thin-slices the world around us on a constantly– every person we meet or even already know we thin-slice. In times of panic, our brains rely on those split-second decisions based on what we have unconsciously observed. The reactions that we have from thin-slicing are sometimes called one’s basic instincts: the inkling inside of you that you may or may not understand.
This is where Gladwell gets into the idea that even when your unconscious brings these thin-slices to your conscious attention, you probably still won’t know why you feel the way you do about things. The little connections that your unconscious brain makes are behind a set of locked doors. It’s a bit off-putting to know that your brain is doing things completely unaware of what in this class we would call one’s I-function. According to Gladwell, it is possible to unlock these doors. This is what professionals do.
In the case of scientists who study the precise movements of every isolated facial muscle in order to determine even the slightest hints of motions on any person face, because they developed the system themselves and practiced for 7+ years, their ability to thin-slice people’s facial expressions is at a much higher level than the rest of us. We of course can still do it, and we do it often, just not at the same level. This goes for Gladwell’s examples of the food tasters as well: while we may have almost the exact same experience as they do while eating something incredible, our experience would end there.
Their experience would go further: they could analyze exactly what they tasted that made the food wonderful – there is so and so much citrus, so and so much of the citrus is orange or lemon or pineapple, etc. Gladwell’s arguments are structured around countless examples of thin-slicing, from war simulations and presidential elections to the Pepsi Challenge. Some of his most compelling examples have to do with relationships, and facial expressions and recognition.