Post #2:  Two Brains in One

This is Part 2 of my four-part series on the brain and business.  Here we’ll look at the fast and slow systems at work in your brain.  (Reminder, Post 1-3 of this series are more science-based, and Post 4 will tie this all together.)

In his compelling book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, explores what he calls System 1 and System 2, which respectively produce fast and slow thinking.  The intuitive System 1 is more influential than your experience tells you, and it is the secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make.  Associative memory, the core of System 1, continually constructs a coherent interpretation of what is going on in our world at any instant.  Most of what you (your System 2) think and do originates in your System 1, but System 2 takes over when things get difficult, and it normally has the last word.  The division of labor between System 1 and System 2 is highly efficient:  it minimizes effort and optimizes performance.  System 1 has been shaped by evolution to provide a continuous assessment of the main problems that an organism must solve to survive.  As such, System 1 cannot be turned off.  Controlling thoughts and behaviors is one of the tasks that System 2 performs, as well as more engaged and analytical thinking(1).  

The tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person -  including things you have not observed - is known as the halo effect; a common bias that plays a large role in shaping our view of people and situations.  It is one of the ways the representation of the world that System 1 generates is simpler and more coherent than the real thing(2).

The reflexive fast system acts immediately, sending information directly from sense organs (eyes, ears, skin, nose, tongue) through the thalamus to the amygdala (click here to read the post, Fear and Marketing, for more information on the amygdala).  All this processing can occur within one twelfth of a second.  Simultaneously, the slow system sends sensory information on to the hippocampus and cortex for further evaluation (click here to read Brain 101, Post 1 of this series, for more information about brain parts referenced in this article).  The slow circuit aids in fear processing by contextualizing the information in time and space and making sense of the behavioral and visceral reaction already set into motion by the fast system.  In this way, our conscious executive functions discover the decisions that have already been made by our unconscious executives.  The diagram below, from Louis Cozolino’s The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, displays this cycle.  Further, by the time we become conscious of others, our brain has already made decisions about them(3).


So, quick recap:  System 1 – intuition/impulse.  System 2 – engaged/analytical (often endorses or rationalizes the ideas/feelings generated by System 1.

ENGAGE:  Be sure to check out Post #3 (of the four-part series): Implicit vs Explicit Memory for information on how we form our sense of “reality”.

GO FURTHER: To learn more about Kahneman's work, click here(1,2) to pick up Thinking Fast and Slow.  To read more from Louis Cozolino’s The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, click here(3).