I recently finished reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” As a neuropsychologist, I have followed Kahneman’s work on automatic and controlled processing...moreI recently finished reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” As a neuropsychologist, I have followed Kahneman’s work on automatic and controlled processing for a number of years and have long known of his importance—he (through his work with Tversky) won the Nobel in economic science. The book does a careful job of summarizing the various phases of Kahneman’s work and career. Of specific note is Kahneman’s emphasis upon two systems of cognitive decision making: System 1 requires little effort and uses heuristics, biases, associations, and metaphors to proffer rapid decisions; and System 2 processes information slower and takes a more effortful, deliberate, and logical approach to decision making.
While I have long been a fan of Kahneman’s work, I feel that the book would have been aided by some discussion of the findings from neuropsychology (both clinical and cognitive) and social neuroscience—specifically the interplay between cognition and affect. Affect is understood as being related to activity in brain areas that direct an individual’s attention, motivation, and value attribution to what she is experiencing. For example, Damasio has built upon James’s perspective on feelings and presented the importance of affect (i.e., emotions) in homeostatic regulation. Damasio has uncovered cortical and subcortical induction sites for affect and cognition (e.g. ventromedial prefrontal cortex and amygdale). Further, I would have greatly enjoyed a comparison of Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 with LeDoux’s two pathways: Pathway 1 is a fast (low road) pathway wherein information from stimuli (visual or auditory) travels to the sensory thalamus (relay station for sensory input) and then straight to the amygdale (emotional processing). Contrariwise, Pathway 2 is a slower (high road) pathway wherein stimulus information (visual or auditory) travels via the sensory thalamus to the sensory cortex and then feeds back to the amygdale. A nice example of applying these two roads (pathways) to decision making is to look at a person walking through a wooded area who sees an object that has a shape like a snake. The fast pathway would result in the individual being startled and experiencing a fear response. The slow pathway would involve taking a moment to assess the object and finding that it is in fact a garden hose…as a result of this slower pathway, the person would no longer experience the fear response.
In summary, “Thinking Fast and Slow” does a nice job of summarizing the various phases of Kahneman’s work and career. It also nicely illustrates Kahneman’s theory and experimental findings on two systems of cognitive decision making. My primary frustration with the work is that it seems to follow an approach to the study of cognition that downplays emotion (affect) and focuses more on cognitive processes. From my perspective, the emphasis upon cognitive decision making without an emphasis upon the interplay of neurocognitive and affective processes results in a limited approach that falls short of explicating these overlapping neural and mental mechanisms. (less)