System 1 vs. System 2: How We Think

System 1 vs. System 2: How We Think

Linda is a 31-year-old woman who is single, outspoken, and intelligent. As a student, she majored in philosophy and was passionate about social justice. She also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which of the following is more probable?

  1. Linda is a bank teller.
  2. Lind is a bank teller, and she is active in the feminist movement.

Take a moment to mull the question over.

Most participants involved in research conducted by psychologists Tversky and Kahneman selected options 2.

However, option 1 is more probable, because it offers a broader range of potential scenarios. Option 1 does not indicate that Linda is not active in the feminist – she could, or could not be, allowing for a broader range of scenarios.

However, the question remains – why do so many people get the answer wrong?

According to Kahneman, most people place too much trust in their basic intuitions, and dislike exerting the effort necessary to think with greater deliberation. As a result, people do not always act rationally, because they often rely on quickly formulated assumptions and associations that are poorly substantiated.

In other words, the key assumptions behind rational choice theory are incorrect.

Kahneman contrasts intuitive thinking from conscious and deliberate thinking using the idea of two different modes of thought – System 1 and System 2.

System 1 vs. System 2

The information processed by system 1 often feeds into system 2, but system 2 can sometimes correct mistakes or misjudgments produced by system 1. System 1 and system 2 are useful metaphors for understanding how certain market research methodologies are better suited to produce certain insights. For instance, methodologies like metaphor elicitation, response latency, or semiotics are specifically useful for brand and marketing research because they are methods that uncover system 1 cognitive processes.

Brands and marketing are often most effective when they resonate with pre-existing psychological and cultural associations that strongly shape system 1 cognitive processes. Metaphor elicitation, response latency, and semiotics can be used to identify those psychological and cultural associations. Understanding those implicit system 1 associations can help brands communicate more efficiently and effectively by revealing potentially harmful associations, identifying cues that resonate, and leveraging emergent cultural trends.

Margaux Fisher is an ethnographer and qualitative research analyst at MDRG. Drawing on her background in anthropology, she designs research guides, conducts interviews, manages projects, analyzes material, and writes reports.