DANIEL KAHNEMAN: I want to tell you a bit of straight psychology that I find very exciting, that I found more exciting this year than I had before, and that in some ways is changing my view about a lot of things in psychology. There are two big things happening in psychology today. One, of course, is everything that’s got to do with the brain, and that’s dominating psychology. But there is something else that is happening, which started out from a methodological innovation as a way to study memory, and we’ve always known, that’s the idea of the notion of association of ideas, which has been around for 350 years at least.
We know about how associations work because we have one thought, and when it leads to another‚windows and doors and things like that, or white and black‚and we have our ideas of associations, and it’s always been recognized as important and interesting. But our view of how associations work has been changed in a profound way by a technical innovation, which is something that happens a great deal in psychology and I suppose in all sciences. This innovation is the following: If, for example, you hear the word “sick”, there are few associations that come to mind. But there are a number of other things that you can do, that are little more refined. You can present words, and measure the amount of time that it takes people to read the words. Or you can measure words and non-words, and the task is to decide whether they’re a set of letters, or a word, or a non-word, and it’s the ease with which words are recognized as words as against non-words. I’ll begin by focusing on reaction time, because that’s the simplest one.