The Ballad Of System 1

I thought I’d try and find a new way of explaining System 1 and System 2 thinking. Here – for better or for verse – are the results. I hope you enjoy them.


For marketing with real precision
You have to understand decision
How we decide’s the hidden key
To comprehending you and me.
At first it seems an easy task.
Want to know how we choose? Just ask!
The snag is, in reality
We show irrationality
Our judgements lack optimal fitness
And to our lives we bear poor witness
Homo economicus
Is a bad fit for most of us.

Which means research can’t well explain
The whims and hunches of the brain.
What luck! We know someone who can,
A guy called Daniel Kahneman.
He saw decisions with fresh eyes
(He also won a Nobel Prize)
His book, called Thinking Fast And Slow
Points to the way research should go.

Two modes of thought, writes Daniel K
Guide all that we think, do and say.
Behind what we say, think and do
Are System 1 and System 2.
And these two systems work in sync
Driving what we do, say, and think.

Decisions led by System 1
Tend to be easy, fast and fun.
They’re influenced by how we feel
Swayed by emotional appeal.
Directed by instinct or habit
(Eg. I throw a ball, you grab it)
They’re not entirely realistic.
They’re led by this or that heuristic.
They aren’t especially profound
They’re influenced by what’s around
A music, scent or colour cue –
Or just what other people do.
They’re the choices we’re always making
But don’t quite realise that we’re taking.

System 1 is light and speedy
But System 2 ‘s a lot more needy.
It chews up your attention span
As you  fret, cogitate or plan.
Risks to weigh, options to sort –
It’s System 2 which feels like thought.
But all this mental calculation
Can lead to needless perspiration.

Real thinking’s hard – it wears us out.
Which means that your ideas about
How we decide may need some shifting.
System 1 does the heavy lifting.
Most of the choices that we take
Are led by System 1, and make
No real demands on our attention
With no System 2 intervention.

For instance, let’s imagine that
You’re buying a ball and a bat.
If you buy both together then
They’ll set you back one dollar ten
Bat costs a dollar more than ball.
So what’s the ball’s price? Nearly all
Who hear this riddle choose a dime.
Ten cents feels right: they don’t take time
To work out that it’s really five.
They’ve let their System 1 brain drive.
Plausible answers win the day –
Thinking it through would cause delay.

It makes quick judgements on the fly
So System 1 can go awry
But it’s not meant to think things through
Its role is to say “this’ll do”
System 2 feels slow and tough
But System 1 is good enough
It’s System 1 that satisfies
While System 2 just ratifies
System 1 is the one that guides
System 1 mainly decides.
Then afterwards we work out why
And build a strong, coherent “I”
So when you ask, we always “know”
What we did, why, how long ago.
But we don’t think before we act, so
Our “reasons” tend to be post-facto.
Real choices happen out of sight.
We don’t think twice, and that’s alright.


This hands research a tricky task.
The worthy things it tends to ask –
Purchase intention, recall, grids –
Are tragically what forbids
Its subjects using System 1
To tell you what they’ve really done
Or let you know what they might do.
Trad surveys trigger System 2:
Sometimes the truth is better served
If people aren’t asked, but observed
And you’ll get closer to what’s real
If you measure what people feel.
So if you’ve made it down this far
Learn more at our next webinar.
Traditional methods too obtuse?
Try something with a bit more juice.


3 thoughts on “The Ballad Of System 1

  1. Pingback: Eight Days Of Emotion No.5: Happiness | Brian Juicer Blog

  2. Pingback: Eight Days Of Emotion No.7: Surprise | Brian Juicer Blog

  3. Pingback: Our Best Blog Posts Of 2013 | Brian Juicer Blog

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