Slow Down, You Think Too Fast


Daniel Kahneman: Many psychologists think of the mind in terms of two systems. System one is the associative one. System one is the impulsive one. System one tends to me more emotional. System two is capable of following rules and system two is more socialized in the sense that it supervises what people say and to some extent what they think and tends to bring those things in line with existing norms.

There has been a fair amount of research indicating there are classes of decision where following your gut is a good idea. It’s a fairly limited class. It’s much more limited than most people think. If you’re choosing posters or if you’re choosing things in terms of whether you would like them in future you’ll do reasonably well following your immediate impulse.

For other decisions, following you immediate impulse is not guaranteed to do well. It could do well. It depends a lot on how much experience you’ve had. If you have had a lot of experience in a particular domain you can trust yourself in that domain – if you’ve been able to learn from your mistakes, which isn’t always true. Otherwise, in big decisions, in really big decisions, you might want to slow down, and that is almost the only advice that we have for people. When things get really big and you’re really not sure, slow down.

We’re very inclined to take subjective confidence at face value, that is, to assume that if an individual feels confident in a judgment or in a decision then that must be valid. People are extremely confident even when they don’t know what they are talking about or don’t know what they are doing. So confidence is a mark of intuitive thinking regardless of whether intuitive thinking is expert intuitive thinking or heuristic intuitive thinking.

To distinguish intuitive thoughts that you can trust from those you can’t trust you really have to look at the environment and you have to look at the individual’s opportunity to learn the environment. There are some environments that simply cannot be learned because they are chaotic and too complex. So I don’t believe people have intuitions about stocks because we know that that world is not regular enough to support valid intuition.

Now there are domains. Wall Street and stock picking is not the same thing. Many people – and that certainly is true for hedge funds – without necessarily having internal information, which is illegal, they have a lot more information than other people about particular industries or about particular companies. There, some of them, I think, may know enough to build expertise. Most of them probably don’t and had better do an extensive analysis.

So you have to look at the world, not look at people’s confidence.

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