Thinking, Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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Kahneman's book, Thinking, Fast & Slow, addresses two specific systems of thinking: fast thinking and slow thinking. System 1 "operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control and System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it" (Kahneman, 2011). Kahneman expresses that we tend to think of ourselves within the framework of system 2 more than system 1, when we reason with our conscious and make the necessary choices and decisions about what to do or not do. That is not to say that system 1 does not operate within us as well. Our expressions of system 1 or rather fast thinking is automatic or with minimal effort meaning we engage in this system with our innate abilities. 

According to Kahneman, "we are born prepared to perceive the world around us, recognize objects, orient attention, and avoid losses" (Kahneman, 2011). The basic difference between system 1 and 2 then are that one is involuntary and the other voluntary. While our thinking processes are controlled by both systems, system 2 requires more effort on behalf of our brain to ascertain, compute, and reason. The focus is the intention with system 2 more so than with system 1, which has an undercurrent of automatic pilot almost intuitive or rather accessible without much effort.

Over the past couple of days, both systems have been engaged. Perhaps the best example of system 1 being used would be driving a car. Having learned how to drive at the age of 15 and continuously driving for the last few years, driving has become automatic. One could say that such a process is similar to riding a bike or learning how to swim. Those are activities that once you learn, they stay with you. This is what Kahneman means in the discussion of system 1. "System 1 has learned associations between ideas, learned skills and the nuances of social situations" (Kahneman, 2011). We cannot separate these learned ideas, nuances and skills once learned.  A system 2 activity was performed over the past few days also upon comparing two specific televisions and the features of each. There was a need to direct precise attention towards the two televisions. It is important to note that system 2 has the ability to change the way system 1 works, by "programming the normally automatic functions of attention and memory" (Kahneman, 2011). Through a voluntary choice, decision or specific intention, certain innate abilities can be altered. The key is consistency in setting this intention and then allowing the programming of system 1 to be overridden slightly by system 2.

This is especially true in the realm of advertising. Our inclination based on advertisements is to reach for a Coke or Pepsi when we desire a soda (system 1) or in our decisions to go to one restaurant over the other (system 2). If an advertising campaign was seeking to alter a system 1 process, the advertisement would have to include something that we are used to and do on an involuntary basis and provide us with enough reasoning to be able to change the innate ability. An example of this would be an advertisement that changed our impressions about the normal feeling we'd have about something we innately do.  An advertising campaign looking to alter a system 2 process would need to be convincing enough to cause us to make the determination over one product or the other. For example, a system 2 advertisement for Cocoa Krispies would have to be so convincing that we would then opt for buying Cocoa Puffs. 

It would stand to reason that the majority of advertisements use system 2 as a way to alter our preference for something, but system 1 advertisements are also used by companies and corporations to change the way we involuntarily interpret our world. The significant difference between the two systems is that system 1 cannot be turned off as easily as system 1 because of the fast unconscious nature of it.


Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.