Two Systems of Mind: Characters in a Story


Kahneman uses the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West’s system of mind termed, simply, System 1 and System 2.

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.¹

A good portion of the book details how these two systems interact with each other as well as impact our decision making processes.

Some Examples of System 1

(From page 37)

  • Answer 2 + 2 = ?
  • Detect hostility in a voice
  • Orient to the source of a sudden sound
  • Understand simple sentences

Kahneman views System 1 as the originator of much the deliberate choices that affect System 2.

Some Examples of System 2

(From page 39)

  • Focus attention on the clowns in a circus
  • Look for a woman with white hair
  • Search memory to identify a surprising sound
  • Tell someone your phone number
  • Fill out a tax form

The key point being that System 2 requires you to pay attention. To actively think.

And Key: How to Think of System 1 and 2 in the Form of a Narrative

…think of the two systems as agents with their individual abilities, limitations, and functions.


¹Kahneman, Daniel. “The Characters of a Story.” In Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. 37.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts