Thinking: A Memoir is both an intellectual autobiography and a personal history. It describes Nisbett’s research showing how people reason, how people should reason, why errors in reasoning occur, how much you can improve reasoning, what kinds of problems are best solved by the conscious mind and what kinds by the unconscious mind, and how we should think about intelligence in light of answers to such questions. It shows that self-knowledge can be dramatically off-kilter and points to ways to improve it. The book shows that different cultures have radically different ways of reasoning, some of which are demonstrably superior to typical Western ways. The book starts with the author's early experiences, many of which directly influenced his subsequent research.
"This memoir chronicles a truly extraordinary life of scientific discovery, interdisciplinary, dialogue and public engagement… Nisbett’s work has enormous societal significance: his trenchant and influential writing on race and intelligence, as well as other critical issues, has fostered a more sober and evidence-based public discourse about who we are – and who we ought to be.."
-- John Doris, Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, author of Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior
“Nisbett’s vivid anecdotes provide an insider’s view of social psychology and the characters who have created the field, including him. While worth reading as a memoir, the book provides an ideal introduction to social psychology.”
-- Randolph Nesse, author of Why We Get Sick and Good Reasons for Bad Feelings
Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking shows how our intuitive forms of reasoning can sometimes fail us, causing us to make serious errors of judgment. We don’t have clear ideas about how much evidence is necessary to come to a conclusion about many important questions. We don’t fully understand how to distinguish between causal relations and mere correlation. When we choose among actions that are likely to benefit us, we are risk-averse and consequently gain less than we might; when we must choose between actions that are likely to harm us, we are risk-seeking and consequently often lose more than we should. We watch bad movies and eat bad meals because we mistakenly feel that this avoids wasting money. Employers choose the wrong employee much of the time because they weight a 30-minute interview heavily in the decision. We rely on intuition to make a judgment when a simple experiment could provide guidance to make a better judgment. Inferential procedures based on statistics and probability theory, micro-economic theory, experimental design, and logic can go a long ways toward eliminating errors like these. These topics are taught in college. This book teaches you how to use them in everyday life.
“Mindware should offer us all an opportunity to understand and react more intelligently to the confusing world around us.”
-- Leonard Mlodinow, The New York Times Book Review
“This book should be required reading at every university.”
-- Daniel Gilbert, Harvard University, author of Stumbling on Happiness
When Nisbett and his colleague Taka Masuda showed an animated underwater scene to American students, they zeroed in on a big fish swimming among smaller fish. Japanese observers instead commented first and primarily on the background environment -- the color of the water, the rocks and plants on the bottom. The differences were large and of profound importance. Westerners are analytic, focusing on a central object, characterizing it on the basis of its attributes, and applying rules to explain its behavior. East Asians see objects in relation to their context, see relations between objects and events, and focus on similarities. The differences in thought processes are equally striking. Western infants learn nouns, which concern objects, more rapidly than verbs, which concern relations. The opposite is true for East Asians. The ancient Chinese knew there was such a thing as action at a distance, a fact that Westerners only began to grasp through scientific experiments in the 18th century. Though ancient Chinese excelled at algebra and arithmetic, their weak grasp on formal logic meant they were slow to develop geometry. The origin of these differences lies deep in ancient history and is a consequence of the social differences produced by different economies, which in turn were due to different ecologies.
“The Geography of Thought may mark the beginning of a new front in the science wars.”
“The cultural differences in cognition, demonstrated in this ground-breaking work, are far more profound and wide-ranging than anybody in the field could have possibly imagined just a decade ago.”
-- Shinobu Kitayama, Faculty of Integrated Human Studies, Kyoto University
For many decades, psychologists believed that differences between people in intelligence were primarily based on gene differences. They believed that early childhood environments had little effect on intelligence, and even those slight environmental effects were gone by late adolescence. School had minimal influence on IQ. The IQ difference between blacks and whites was approximately 15 points and this difference was in good part due to genes. Efforts to raise IQ, in particular that of lower-class minority individuals, were doomed to failure. One’s intelligence at the beginning of adulthood was all one was ever going to have. The fact that lower-class individuals have more children than higher-socioeconomic status individuals meant that, over time, IQ was becoming lower in industrialized nations. Nisbett shows that these views are utterly and catastrophically wrong. Early childhood environmental effects on intelligence are large and continuing. Intelligence is highly subject to interventions for everyone of every age. You can’t be smart without school, and some schools are much more effective at increasing intelligence than others. The IQ gap between blacks and whites has narrowed steadily over the last 70 years and in any case owes nothing to genes. So far from reducing over time, IQ in industrial nations has been increasing ever since the start of the industrial revolution. Intelligence more broadly defined has been increasing apace as well.
“A superb new book….Provides suggestions for transforming your own urchins into geniuses…but focuses on how to raise America’s collective IQ.”
-- Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times
“A devastating and persuasive refutation of all those who believe intellectual ability is fixed at birth. Few Americans have done as much to deepen our understanding of what it means to be human.”
-- Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point
The homicide rate in the US South is much higher than in the North. This has been attributed to the weather: the air is hot, people get hot under the collar, they pull the trigger in the heat of the moment. It’s also been attributed to slavery: the whites dealt violently with the enslaved blacks, including killing them when they chose; that violent behavior simply carried over to fellow whites. But both of those explanations are inadequate to explain just where in the South the white non-Hispanic homicide rate is particularly high: not the deep, muggy plantation South but the mountainous South such as West Virginia and the dry plains such as Oklahoma. Homicides carried out in the context of another crime such as robbery are about as high in the North as in the South. It’s for crimes of passion that the South leads the North, especially those prompted by an insult of some kind. The economic base of the North and the moist plains was originally farming; the economic base of the mountains and the dry plains was the herding of animals. Herdsmen have to be tough guys in order to discourage other people from poaching their herds. Look at me cross-eyed, get too friendly with my woman, make a joke at my expense and be prepared to get punched or worse. This sensitivity to insults is not restricted to contemporary herdsmen. The authors conducted experiments in which a student bumped male University of Michigan students and called them “assholes.” This increased the testosterone level of students from the South, but not of those from the North.
“Anyone concerned with violence must read this book. So should every southerner, and anyone interested in the connections between psychology and culture.”
-- Alan Page Fiske, UCLA, author of Structures of Social Life
“Nisbett and Cohen have moved the discussion of southern violence to an entirely new level. In particular, their fascinating experimental results have implications that go far beyond anything does on this subject before.”
-- John Shelton Reed, University of North Carolina, editor of Southern Culture
Perhaps the most consequential cognitive error we make is what Lee Ross has dubbed “the Fundamental Attribution Error.” This is the tendency to attribute other people’s behavior to their attributes – personality traits, skills, preferences – and to slight the role of the situation. When we predict how people will behave in situations of a type where we have never observed the person, we frequently miss the mark. Joe has always been extroverted when we hang out with him and our other buddies, so we erroneously assume he will be extroverted at the office meeting. If we use presumed personality traits as an excellent guide to predicting behavior in novel situations, we will be wrong more often than right. The schoolchild who cheats on the exam is scarcely more likely to steal spare change than a child who doesn’t cheat. The colleague who is conscientious about keeping her promises may have the messiest desk in the building. So what should we use as a basis of prediction? Our knowledge of the behavior of other people in the particular situation. If all your friends liked the Hitchcock movie you are extremely likely to as well, no matter whether you like Hitchcock movies in general or not.
“ All of my books have been, in some sense, intellectual godchildren of The Person and the Situation. This book has been a constant companion over the last 10 years”
-- Malcolm Gladwell, Author of Blink and The Tipping Point