Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover


Lilian Chong, Editor-in-Chief

If you didn’t know, blinking is part of how we perceive the world around us. Fun fact: we average about 14,400 to 19,200 blinks a day, but only a few of those eyelid flickers make up a single thought. Believe it or not, it takes just 1/10 of a second to form a first impression of something. While making quick inferences can produce scarily accurate and often helpful conclusions, such as deciding who to recruit on a team or choosing the right partner on a speed date, these snap judgments can almost never tell the full picture.

The point is, we make baseless conclusions without knowing the entire story, or why we make them. Even if our rapid judgments were spot on, we still wouldn’t be able to explain why we came to a certain conclusion. As noted by the Canadian journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell in his novel Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, the subtle inferences we make about a particular situation “take[s] place behind a locked door”—or the unconscious mind. As a result, this unconscious thinking process demonstrates why we’re terrible at explaining our own judgments.

To give a more realistic example, some of us—myself included—are prone to thinking things will turn out for the worst. Deep down in our subconscious are disturbing predictions of our future, which perturb us into imagining the world will end if things don’t turn out the way we expect them to. For instance, a booming burst of thunder happens. It’s a senseless idea, but some of us are immediately convinced the sky is falling on our heads. What’s the rationality behind this? We’d most likely point our reasoning to direct experiences, where we apply our worst memories when drawing conclusions. Of course, the world isn’t ending anytime soon, and the sky obviously isn’t falling. 

Now, if we look at society from a higher vantage point, our minds are much more susceptible to outside influences than we think. The media, public figures, and popular opinion all have an effect on how our minds readily spew rapid judgments without thinking.

Our minds are wired to conform, especially to stereotypes depicted in movies and films. We don’t realize it ourselves, but we’re constantly fed with negative stereotypes and disinformation about a particular group in the media and film industry. For instance, the model minority myth is a deeply ingrained stereotype that all Asian Americans achieve success and the so-called “American Dream” through their perceived wealth and family inheritance. The acclaimed 2018 American rom com, Crazy Rich Asians, is a striking case in point, as the movie portrays almost every stereotype known to the American public’s perception of Asians, such as being good at math, attending top private universities, and most of all, being successful and affluent. What most people would conclude after sitting through the movie, featuring one of the wealthiest Asian families in the world, is that all Asians begin at the peak of the social ladder. Obviously, this concept doesn’t hold true if you’ve heard of the large wealth gap among Asian groups and the disproportionality of income and education across Asian countries. It takes just one movie and the popularization of the “wealthy Asians” trope to produce all sorts of racial stereotypes, and we do this without thinking or assessing the surrounding circumstances.

Another form of rapid judgment is thin-slicing. More recently, racial profiling cases have been no exception to the climbing statistics of racial stereotyping and discrimination against communities of color. It begins with the overgeneralization of negative information about a particular group, stemming from public opinion and the media; the mind then creates a general assumption about a person by associating them with a group based solely on their race. This quick, negative association all circles back to this psychological thinking process, known as thin-slicing, where we make swift assessments based on limited information and details of an individual or situation. Take a look at our history of mass incarceration; the decision behind mass incarceration was founded on the very idea of making overgeneralized assumptions about communities of color as criminals or drug offenders. 

Thin-slicing is not something your conscious mind can control, but there are measures to prevent oneself from acting on these thin-slices, such as taking the moment to understand every detail of the situation. The idea, or thin-slices, is often produced without conscious thought, because the second you look at the subject, your mind draws conclusions based on your own beliefs and inferences. As a society and as humans, we subconsciously associate people in a particular way even though the majority of the time our associations are false. Such judgment without thinking is often the basis of persistent discrimination in the workplace, in public, or virtually anywhere. 

So I conclude on this note that our world could be a better place with people who can see the full picture, or at the very least, make an attempt to see the entire scope. Don’t get me wrong, snap judgments and thin-slicing isn’t a bad habit at all. In fact, it’s useful in cases when we must act quickly or we’ll miss a lifetime opportunity. But if used in the wrong perspective and with wrong judgment, thin-slicing could produce disaster! It is normal to feel skeptical and wary about the people around you and your surroundings, but don’t base your decisions and draw conclusions solely on what you hear in the media or the current paradigm of what is socially acceptable. Be a reasonable human, and don’t think too fast or you’ll judge wrongly of a good book.


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