Category: English



According to the New York Times (Sam Smith, “Shyness”, June 2008), shyness is found to be prevalent and may result from both internal and external factors. For instance, shy parents may inherit their genes of shyness to their offspring, who are found to be more sensitive to external stimuli such as sound and light when they are newly born and tend to grow shy in their later lives. Furthermore, shyness may result from a lack of social interactions during the growth of a child, implying that larger family size may help children to overcome their shyness, and technological development isolated people may intensify shyness. In addition, cultural factors can also contribute to shyness. For example, in Japan success is attributed to parents and failure is attributed to the agents themselves, while in Israel the condition is opposite. This cultural difference which might explain why Japanese are more shy than Israeli. However, although shy persons are more likely to be isolated, unconfident and nerves, shyness is not without merits. Shy people are often more successful in their careers, and they harbor an altruistic attitude when interacting with others.

This article is based on the scientific research, however, its conclusions may not be credible. For example, the relationship between the shyness of parents and the shyness of their children deserves to be reconsidered, since this correlation is based on the subjective report of adult parents, rather than a quantitative objective measurement of shyness. First, parents may overestimate or underestimate their shyness, leading to the measurement errors; Second, it is more likely that parents who are sensitive tend to overestimate their shyness, and those who are not may not aware they are shy, so the sensitive responses of newly born babies to stimulus are more likely to be related to the sensitivity of their parents, rather than the shyness. The more probable channel is that parents inherit their sensitivity genes to children, and shyness is only one of its results.  Furthermore, the author correlates the different perceptions on failure and success as an explanation of various degrees of shyness between Japan and Israel, which might also be inaccurate. Japan and Israel are different in a multiple dimensions of culture, so it may be that other cultural elements affect shyness, or that some more basic factors have impacts on both the shyness and perceptions of success and failure, resulting in discrepancies in both these two dimensions. In other words, the correlations between shyness and the perception of success and failure may be only an association, rather than a causal relationship. In sum, this article could be more convincing if the author considered more about the validity of the examples cited.

In Blink (Malcolm Gladwell, 2005), the author argues that rapid cognition can lead to effective decisions. This rapid cognition, so called “snap judgment”, is shown to be correct most of the time, but occasionally wrong. For example, at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, detailed scientific tests incorrectly judged a statue as genuine, but the “snap judgment” from art experts identified the statue as a fake (p 3-8). This example shows that unconscious judgment derived from limited information can be accurate or even superior to analysis, which contradicts the conventional belief in decision making. Furthermore, Gladwell argues that judgment can be both consciously and unconsciously affected by preference, prejudices, and stereotypes. For instance, America’s worst president Warren Harding was elected because his distinguished-looking appearance catered to the preferences for most people, which distorted the public’s judgment. Unconscious bias can also lead to poor judgment. The Implicit Association Tests shows that unconscious stereotype may be utterly incompatible with the stated conscious values (p 77-88). Moreover, Gladwell points out that excess information can also interfere with the accuracy of judgment. That is, collecting more information may only reinforce the confidence but may not improve judgment accuracy, since this information may be irrelevant and confusing to the decision maker. For example, based on little information, General Paul V. Riper triumphed over his opponent in a simulation war game, who had advantageous possession of information (p 72-75). In sum, Blink provides a new perspective into cognition, which revolutionizes the way of thinking.

Blink is an insightful book about intuitive decision making and judgment. Its novel ideas and the accompanying vivid examples easily make readers keeping reading. However, readers are ultimately unable to find any operational suggestions or methods. For instance, in Chapter 4 after readers have just been amused by the power of “thin-slicing” in Chapter 3 and before, they are abruptly told that “thin-slicing” is not reliable, then after a few depressing examples, this chapter ends, leaving the readers lost amid the inconsistent opinions. Such style and design can either be a merit or a limitation. From the view of a general reader, any didactic words may be unnecessary for a best-selling book, for these kinds of books are predominately written for the commercial aim of entertainment, rather than out of education. In this sense, Blink is successful. On the other hand, from the academic point of view, this book lacks logic and instructions. In most cases, Gladwell simply proposes an idea, always a new idea that contradicts the conventional wisdom, and then he throws out a series of descriptive examples without validating them, which seems only to irresponsibly attract eyeballs but lack the confidence to ensure the correctness of arguments. Since this book includes a number of the cutting-edge studies, replacing the long descriptive paragraphs with concise analysis and emphasize more on the logic would probably win Blink a decent place among the popular science readings.