Outliers

A Thin Slice of Love…

The videotape of Bill and Sue’s discussion seems, at least at first, to be a random sample of a very ordinary kind of conversation that couples have all the time. No one gets angry. There are no scenes, no breakdowns, no epiphanies. “I’m just not a dog person” is how Bill starts things off, in a perfectly reasonable tone of voice. He complains a little bit – about the dog, not about Susan. She complains, too, but there are also moments when they simply forget that they are supposed to be arguing. When the subject of whether the dog smells comes up, for example, Bill and Sue banter back and forth happily, both with a half smile on their lips.

Sue: Sweetie! She’s not smelly….

Bill: Did you smell her today?

Sue: I smelled her. She smelled good. I petted her, and my hands didn’t stink or feel oily. Your hands have never smelled oily.

Bill: Yes, sir.

Sue: I’ve never let my dog get oily.

Bill: Yes, sir. She’s a dog.

Sue: My dog has never gotten oily. You’d better be careful.

Bill: No, you’d better be careful.

Sue: No, you’d better be careful….Don’t call my dog oily, boy.

How much do you think can be learned about Sue and Bill’s marriage by watching that fifteen minute videotape? Can we tell if their relationship is healthy or unhealthy? I suppose that most us would say that Bill and Sue’s dog talk doesn’t tell us much. It’s much too short. Marriages are buffeted by more important things, like money and sex and children and job and in-laws, in constantly changing combinations. Sometimes couples are very happy together. Some days they fight. Sometimes they feel as though they could almost kill each other, but then they go on vacation and come back sounding like newlyweds.

In order to “know” a couple, we feel as though we have to observe them over many weeks and months and see them in every state – happy, tired, angry, irritated, delighted, having a nervous breakdown, and so on  – and not just in the relaxed and chatty mode that Bill and Sue seemed to be in. To make an accurate prediction about something as serious as the future of marriage – indeed, to make a prediction of any sort – it seems that we would have to gather a lot of information and in as many different contexts as possible.

But John Gottman has proven that we don’t have to do that at all. Since the 1908s, Gottman has brought more than three thousand married couples – just like Bill and Sue – into that small room in his “love lab” near the University of Washington campus. Each couple has been videotaped, and the results have been analyzed according to something Gottman dubbed SPAFF (for specific affect) , a coding system that has twenty separate categories corresponding to every second of the couple’s interaction, so that a fifteen minute conflict discussion ends up being translated into a row of eighteen hundred numbers – nine hundred for the husband and nine hundred for the wife…On the basis of those calculations, Gottman has proven something remarkable. If he analyzes an hour of a husband and wife talking, he can predict with 95 percent accuracy whether that couple will still be married fifteen years later.

*All text referenced is taken from Blink by Malcolm Gladwell*

Judgment Comes In Pairs

Over the past few years, a number of psychologists have begun to look more closely at the role these kinds of unconscious – or, as they like to call them, implicit – associations play in our beliefs and behavior, and much of their work has focused on a very fascinating tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The IAT was devised by Anthony G. Greenwald, Mahzarin Banaji, and Brian Nosek, and it a based on a seemingly obvious – but nonetheless quite profound – observation. We make connections much more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds than we do pairs of ideas that are unfamiliar to us. What does this mean?

Let me give you an example. Below is a list of words. Take a pencil or pen and assign each name to the category to which it belongs by putting a check mark either to the left or to the right of the word. You can also do it by tapping your finger in the appropriate column. Do it as quickly as you can. Don’t skip over words. And don’t worry if you make mistakes.

Male                                                                                                                                                                                                             Female

John

Bob

Amy

Holly

Joan

Derek

Peggy

Jason

Lisa

Matt

Sarah

That was easy right? And the reason that was easy is that when we read of hear the name “John” or “Bob” or “Holly”, we don’t even have to think about whether it’s a masculine or feminine name. We all have a strong prior association between a first name like John and the male gender, or a name like Lisa and things female.

That was a warm up.

Now let’s complete an actual IAT. It works like the warm up, except that now I’m going to mix two entirely separate categories together. Once again, put a check mark to either the right or the left of each word, in the category to which it belongs

Male or Career                                                                                    Female or Family

Lisa

Matt

Laundry

Entrepreneur

John

Merchant

Bob

Capitalist

Holly

Joan

Home

Corporation

Siblings

Peggy

Jason

Kitchen

Housework

Parents

Sarah

Derek

My guess is that most of you found this a little harder, but that you were still pretty fast at putting the words into the right categories.

*All text referenced is taken from Blink by Malcolm Gladwell*