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People in general know that we can decide either emotionally or rationally. And it would seem logical to separate these two processes when thinking about … well … thinking.

However Daniel Kahnemen found that he needed a different separation that does not come with the ballast of existing associations. He divided the brain into a fast and often logical part that he called System 1 and a slower more deliberate part called System 2.

System 1 is near instantaneous. System 2 is much slower and not available for immediate responses. In a world where fast results count, for example the natural world (was that a tiger in those bushes?) faster is better and system 1 dominates. But as soon as planning is involved things need to slow down and we need to spend some time in system 2. System 2 is in large part conscious and analytical. System 1 is subconscious and intuitive.

As humans, we need both systems. It would be a grave error to elevate one over the other. Sure a thoughtful response can be superior, but it is slooOOoow. System 1 is the shortcut system. Besides, system 2 is not necessarily superior to system 1. Even though system 2 is conscious that does not mean we have all the necessary information, are aware of all the factors that need to be considered, or that we have control over how each factor is weighted.

System 2 is also exhausting. There seems to be some mechanism that limits the amount of effort we can spend on system 2 activities each day. System 1 on the other hand does not tire. So many decisions that could do with more system 2 attention are relegated to a system 1 response. Opening up possibilities for manipulations by clever operators or marketeers. (See the review of Pre-Suasion)

So what is the conclusion?

That is a problem, while this is all very interesting, I am not sure there is a conclusion. Neither system is superior and we need both. So why write about them? Well, there is one aspect I would like to tie in:

We can train ourselves to override system 1 responses. Society has its own rules, and often these rules want us to ignore our system 1 responses. The most common example is probably our judgement of other people. When we meet somebody for the first time, it is said that we form an opinion about him/her in the first split second we see them. That is our system 1 kicking in. Overriding the result of system 1 because “society wants us to” may not be the best of our options. Not everybody who gives you a creepy feeling on the first meet is a sociopath or a would be assassin. But when system 1 tells us something, we would do well to listen.


Originally posted at: 2016-11-22
Last modified on: 2016-11-22

Discuss this post here: Reacting with system 1 or 2?