Characteristics of System 1

System 1 …

  • generates impressions, feelings, and inclinations; when endorsed by \ System 2 these become beliefs, attitudes, and intentions
  • operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort, and no sense of voluntary control
  • can be programmed by System 2 to mobilize attention when a particular pattern is detected ( search)
  • executes skilled responses and generates skilled intuitions, after adequate training
  • creates a coherent pattern of activated ideas in associative memory
  • links a sense of cognitive ease to illusions of truth, pleasant feelings, and reduced vigilance
  • distinguishes the surprising from the normal
  • infers and invents causes and intentions
  • neglects ambiguity and suppresses doubt
  • is biased to believe and confirm
  • exaggerates emotional consistency (halo effect)
  • focuses on existing evidence and ignores absent evidence (WhatYouSeeIsAllThereIs)
  • generates a limited set of basic assessments
  • represents sets by norms and prototypes, does not integrate
  • matches intensities across scales (e.g., size to loudness)
  • computes more than intended (mental shotgun)
  • sometimes substitutes an easier question for a difficult one (heuristics)
  • is more sensitive to changes than to states (prospect theory)
  • overweights low probabilities
  • shows diminishing sensitivity to quantity (psychophysics)
  • responds more strongly to losses than to gains (loss aversion)
  • frames decision problems narrowly, in isolation from one another

Kahneman 2012, p.105


System 1 generates a cohesive story on the fly

The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages ~to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. When information is scarce, which is acommon occurrence, System 1 operates as a machine for jumping to conclusions.

The combination of a coherence-seeking System 1 with a lazy System 2 implies that System 2 will endorse many intuitive beliefs, which closely reflect the impressions generated by System 1.

Kahneman 2012, p.85-6

How ‘System 1’ works

‘The main function of System 1 is to maintain and update a model of your personal world, which represents what is normal in it. The model is constructed by associations that link ideas of circumstances, events, actions, and outcomes that co-occur with some regularity, either at the same time or within a relatively short interval. As these links are formed and strengthened, the pattern of associated ideas comes to represent the structure of events in your life, and it determines your interpretation of the present as well as your expectations of the future.’

Kahneman 2012, p. 71

Mere expoure effect (Zajonc)

As we saw in figure 5, repetition induces cognitive ease and a comforting feeling of familiarity. The famed psychologist ROBERT ZAJONC dedicated much of his career to the study of the link between the repetition of an arbitrary stimulus and the mild affection that people eventually have for it. Zajonc called it the mere exposure effect.

Zajonc offered an eloquent summary of his program of research:
‘The consequences of repeated exposures benefit the organism in its relations to the immediate animate and inanimate environment. They allow the organism to distinguish objects and habitats that are safe from those that Jot, and they are the most primitive basis of social attachments. Therefore, they form the basis for social organization and cohesion-the basic :ources of psychological and social stability.’

Kahneman 2012, p.66-7

Reduce cognitive strain

The general principle is that anything you can do to reduce cognitive strain will help, so you should first maximise legibility … If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do … In addition to making your message simple, try to make it memorable. Put your ideas in verse if you can; they will be more likely to be taken as truth.

Kahneman 2012, p.62-3