Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow will transform the way you think about thinking.

thinking fast and slow summary

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Thinking, Fast and Slow is a best-selling book published in 2011 by Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences laureate Daniel Kahneman. It was the 2012 winner of the National Academies Communication Award for best creative work that helps the public understanding of topics in behavioral science, engineering and medicine.

Who is this book for?

  • Readers who are interested in persuasive and leadership oriented books.
  • People who need to use persuasion to generate sales or inspire change.
  • Anyone interested to learn how to use why to get desired results.

Meet the author

Daniel Kahneman (born March 5, 1934) is an Israeli-American psychologist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, as well as behavioral economics, for which he was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (shared with Vernon L. Smith).

Thinking Fast and Slow Summary

Discover the two systems present in your mind that enables you to make decisions and conclusions.

When you look at a picture, you immediately come up with quick conclusions about the events happening in the picture. You combine seeing and intuitive thinking to come up with your experiences from the picture.

You get the mood in the picture; you can make predictions about what may happen next in the picture, other pictures may show the location, time of day that the picture was taken, the gender of people in the picture, etc. All these conclusions come to you effortlessly and automatically. You do not intend to gather the information neither did you tire from making the conclusions. You deduce all those details from an instance of fast thinking.

When looking at a mathematical problem, for example, a multiplication problem, you get immediate thoughts about it. You think to yourself that you can solve it, and you get vague intuitive knowledge about possible answers, but you immediately experience slow thinking when you start addressing it.

You retrieve the mathematical formulas you learned in school from your memory and implement them. As you try to solve the problem, you put in the effort, and you experience tensions in your body. You solve the problem in a slow thought process.
The above scenarios show the working of two systems in the mind that psychologists have so much interest in:

System 1 – The mind operates automatically and quickly with minimal effort and limited sense of voluntary actions.
System 2 – The mind pays attention to the mental activities that require much effort. The events are in constant demand of the attention and effort. These operations are associated with the experiences of agency, choice, and concentration.

System 1 is the originating impressions that are used in the beliefs and deliberate choices that are made in System 2.

System 1 instantaneously provides complex patterns and ideas that are taken up by the slower System 2 which transforms them from thoughts to orderly actions. Both systems have their abilities, limitations, and functions. The automatic functions linked with System 1 require very little thought into accomplishing them. Some of them include:
Reading facial expressions of a person
Understanding simple statements
Differentiating the distances of two objects
Reading words on large billboards
System 2 functions require much thought and effort to accomplish. They consist of more complex situations such as:
Focusing on a specific voice in a noisy room
Comparing the prices of two items
Telling someone your phone number
Activities in System 1 are effortless and involuntary while activities in System 2 require attention and effort.

If you learn how to control both systems to work seamlessly together, you will achieve efficiency in your life.

Both System 1 and System 2, function whenever were are awake. System 1 continuously generates ideas for System 2. If the feelings, impressions intentions and intuitions generated by System 1 are accepted by System 2, they are constructed into beliefs and voluntary actions.

System 2 also has a function of stepping up in aid of System 1 whenever a problem that System 1 can’t handle arises. When you encounter a multiplication problem, it becomes challenging for System 1 to handle. System 2 starts acting immediately. It starts looking for solutions to the problem and in most cases; through memory. Both systems are continually dividing labor efficiently; minimizing efforts and increasing the performance of the mind.

The efficiency in the division of labor is made possible by the very effective System 1. It is very accurate in its operations, but it does not lack some flaws. One of its weaknesses is that; it tends to answer easy and unasked questions using its minimal understanding of logic and statistics. Second, it cannot be turned off, and it does not require your effort hence it is continuously working even when you don’t want it to. For example, if a word is written in your line of view, System 1 automatically reads even without your consent unless in situations where your full concentration is focused elsewhere.

Conflicts between the automatic and unintentional reactions are frequent in our daily lives. For example, you have experienced the challenge of forcing yourself to read a book you’re bored with; you always find yourself going back to the point at which you lost the concentration. The conflicts are brought about by one of the functions of system two which is self-control; to overcome the influences of System 1.

Cognitive illusions cause confusion or conflicts between System 1 and System 2. System 1 causes errors (biases) of intuitive thought that are often difficult to prevent. The biases cannot always be avoided because System 2 may not have adequate knowledge of the errors. We can overcome these illusions and errors only through effective monitoring and enhanced activities of System 2.

Are you a victim of always jumping to conclusions? You cannot switch it off, but you can control it.

System 1 constantly jumps to conclusions. This characteristic can be efficient if the outcomes are likely to be correct with minimal and less costly mistakes. The efficiency of jumping to conclusions can also look at as saving time and effort. It gets risky if the situation is unfamiliar, information gathered within the limited time is not sufficient. Intuitive errors as probable in these cases unless System 2 intervenes.

System 1 jumps to conclusions when the context of the situation determines the interpretation of the various elements. For example, the letter “I” may be seen as looking like the number “1” if it is in the context of numbers and “1” looked at as “I” when in the context of letters. System 1 jumps to one conclusion without keeping track of alternative conclusions. After the first conclusion is made, it automatically disposes of all the other possible alternatives. If it sees “I” as a number, it disposes of the other possibility of it being a letter.

System 2 maintains in the mind, all alternatives and conflicting interpretations that require effort. Due to these characteristics of System 2, it is filled with doubt and uncertainties. System 1 takes up the initial attempt to believe a statement to understand it. It constructs the most appropriate and close interpretations of the situation. A statement that makes no sense evokes belief at first before it is reconstructed.

After System 1 creates the best possible interpretations, System 2 takes up the function of evaluating the situation to decide whether to continue believing the situation or to unbelieve it. When System 2 is unavailable due to other mind engagements, we tend to believe almost anything. System 1 makes us biased and gullible.

System 2 is usually doubting, busy and often lazy especially when we are physically lazy. That is why adverts are often presented to us when we are tired from working the whole day. System 2 is tired and does not put much attention to determine whether the advert is genuine or not. System 1 takes in the advert, and we readily believe it.

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“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.” 

― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

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