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Gladwell believed everything the salesmen he interviewed told him. Are you suggesting that some people are more skeptical than this? ;-)


>Tell me what’s so shrewd about being given four critical facts about a potential customer, and deciding to discard three of them?

Why do you assume the discarded three facts are critical instead of, for the actual purpose of selling a car, mostly irrelevant?

Car salesmen could just be the result of operant conditioning and evolution: the successful ones use what works. Why it works isn't their fault; they're products of the environment.

Bob Calder

The gentleman who asked if it is customary to give your education information to the salesman is perfectly right. Although it is nice to have the information from a salesman's perspective, it is definitely weird. So weird in fact, that the salesman may feel there is something strange going on and alter his normal behavior.

It is also true that an auto purchase is at least fifty percent emotional. That said, there is no way that two prospects can react exactly the same. A salesman will alter his probing questions out of boredom at the very least. So in order to adjust, I would think that the experiment would have to be repeated hundreds of times to become reliable.

Jen Bidding

When I was an art dealer the first thing I would measure was your level of interest. If you're "just browsing" I was more likely to make irrelevent chit-chat. If you had a geniune interest I would ask more personal questions regarding your taste.

Salespeople generally know how to spot a liar because of the questions we're asking. If your answers don't add up we know you are lying. I was never offended by liars, I just knew they were not serious buyers.

Ted Heistman

As I thought Malcom Gladwell ignored Michael Blowhard's comment.

It made the most sense of anything I have read so far. It couldn't be construed as racist and it totally refuted Gladwell's argument.

Maybe its not right to assume the worst in people. Maybe Gladwell is not being dishonest.


I don't really understand all the questioning of Malcolm's point. Doesn't the study (and many many others) just point out that people are treated very differently based on race? Is there any question about this? It doesn't even seem all that debatable. Maybe this example wasn't the best to use (in the context of Blink it made sense) but whatever, there's plenty of other examples.


Ed, everybody agrees that the people in the study were treated differently based on race (AND sex, which has been too little discussed here). This debate is about why this happens.

Gladwell says that the discrimination is unconscious and economically unwise, whereas Sailer et al. claim that it's both conscious and economically rational.


I second Steve's praise for Dave Barry. He's no H. L. Mencken, but who is? I support his presidential candidacy as well.

The data that is really missing on the issue of profits. Is this kind of discrimination profitable for car dealers? We can assume rationality based on that, but until we know that fact this issue can't really be resolved.


"As I thought Malcom Gladwell ignored Michael Blowhard's comment.

It made the most sense of anything I have read so far. It couldn't be construed as racist and it totally refuted Gladwell's argument."

do you think gladwell's avoiding the point? maybe he just found something better to do for an hour or two than hunch over a computer keyboard.

i don't think it refutes his argument all that totally; it gives an example of more or less the same behavior, just in a different context. blowhard's example doesn't explicitly suggest racism, sure, because the moroccan natives held the belief that all non-natives, regardless of their country of origin, would be easy marks. but that isn't necessarily any more true than the idea that all blacks or women will be easy marks, and it is still an example of summing someone up based solely on a sort of "otherness." an action was carried out based on a belief in a stereotype. so now we've established that this happens all the time, all over the world, to all kinds of people. how does that prove that in this country, it doesn't happen to members of a certain race simply because they are members of that race?

and when did anyone think gladwell was being dishonest? some people accused him of being naive, but this is the first i can remember of anyone suggesting he was being untruthful.


Ah David – the voice of reason and saying what I wished had been said by Gladwell and may have been if there had not been a 'Josh from West Wing' moment (yes Juniper I hear you).

Derek – I don't know which upsets me more, that you reckon 'ignorant people [...] will (and should) be taken advantage of' and that this is ok if its called capitalism or because you have used the label 'ignorant' to describe the victims of this kind of negative behaviour or that its ok to take advantage of anyone whatever the context. I think of domestic violence or even human traffiking and wonder if the same reasoning would be applied by you – would the victim be ignorant and would it be ok to take advantage because of this…what about children...they can be ignorant of a lot but is it ok to take advantage of them? For Money? Capitalism? (James B Shearer has a point)

'He who should not be named', really should not be named – he's getting too much air-time and its all re-runs I'm getting bored of – I'm also concerned that this guy will convince people over to the darkside as a lot of what this thread of comments and posts does is advertise his cause and promote his views. Free speech is only free if its not attempting to colonise (in my book this is 'taking advantage'). As Derek points out there are 'ignorant' people out there and lots of people like him who think its ok that they should be 'taken advantage of'...lets not help.


I live very far uptown on the 1 line in New York. Is it racist of me, when boarding a very crowded train at 42nd street, to deliberately stand in front of a seated white woman who's wearing artsy accessories and expensive shoes (possibly carrying a "Whole Foods" shopping bag, just because I'm pretty darn sure she'll be getting off the train well before 125th street (usually around 79th or 110th at the latest) so I can have her seat when she gets up to debark the train?

I'm nearly always right. My white friends have told me this is racism, or racial profiling. I'm not sure what I need to be reproached for, but feel free. I'll take it like a man.


What's the negative impact on the seated white woman? If none, then it sounds like your friends are criticizing you simply for noticing racial and cultural differences.

Celebrate diversity! But never mention it!


I say "Vive la différence!" And of course, "live and let live." (I guess others think: "A bas la différence!" Some think they're unifying the world, and others think they're getting rid of the opposition. I'm not sure either know what they're doing!)

L James

Malcolm, read about multivariate data clustering and then stop saying "the color of their skin" every time you mean to say "their racial grouping". Though fairly predictive, black skin is only one of many characteristics of the black grouping.



Does anyone here believe that Gladwell wants to believe particular things about race because of his ethnic background? What is the presumption in coming here and talking to him about race? Are you speaking to the real Malcolm Gladwell? Do you think perhaps the real Malcolm Gladwell has changed? Of all the things he has written, do you think this subject is one that gives you the greatest insight to his soul?

These are 'conversational bias' issues I consider as a writer, because you never really know who your audience will be.


...and it's a beautiful view...that's why we keep reading.

Hans Gruber

Sailer, as he sometimes does, put the issue in controversial (insulting to some, I am sure) terms--e.g. black men want to be viewed as big spenders.

But I'm not sure if it's quite like that, or if it needs to be presented in such an intentionally provocative way, and without elaboration.

I would think most people would happily pay less for a car, but most people are not equally willing to bargain. Sales people are going to take advantage of this. I would expect a large difference between prices paid by males and females on average; not because women want to pay more, but simply because they are not as willing to haggle the salesman down further.

Some people just don't like to negotiate, while others actually view it as a character flaw (as an implication of being overly frugal, a penny-pincher, etc). To put the issue in more favorable (and I think more accurate terms), a lot of blacks may not wish to be seen as cheap, as having to worry about the $1,000 difference. Blacks are often stereotyped as less affluent, it would follow then that many blacks may seek to overcome this negative stereotype by presenting a facade of financial strength--"$15,000 for this car? Sure, I can swing that, where do I sign?"

That's all speculation, though, but does it sound unreasonable?Several people have urged Sailer to produce data on his claim. I was unable to find any data from a quick google search, but I recall that the savings rate for black Americans, even when compared to similarly affluent whites, is substantially lower. That still may not support Sailer's assertion that black men want to be SEEN as big spenders, but it would (if true) support the assertion that they are big spenders, whether or not they desire to project that persona or not.

The most conspcious support for Sailer's assertion is, of course, the "BLING" phenomenon. Though this is just a particular (though quite visible and prominent) segment of the black community, hip hop culture and professional atheletes, it may provide an exagerated picture of something present among blacks generally. Now, maybe people just like sparkling diamonds and platinum, or maybe they like projecting their financial power and status for all to see.

Here's a black man writing about the wealth gap and its causes in 1993:

"A large part of the problem is that we are less likely to have the extra or discretionary income to make such investments and often lack access to the critical information needed to do so. We are also much less likely to inherit the kind of resources that allow families to accumulate or perpetuate wealth, since our ancestors died literally owning nothing to pass on.

We also tend as a people to invest in the trappings of success -- clothes, expensive cars, electronic equipment, household gadgets, fine liquor -- rather than the substance of success. This is due largely to a history of deprivation that has resulted in our needing to make a visible statement about economic success once we achieve it. And even when we haven't achieved it, looking as if we're an unqualified success has always made us feel better."



"We also tend as a people to invest in the trappings of success -- clothes, expensive cars, electronic equipment, household gadgets, fine liquor -- rather than the substance of success"

In my experience whites from poor backgrounds (eg my mother) do exactly the same thing.


"With the black men, he zeroed in on age and race, and ignored everything else."

As other folks have pointed out, this conclusion is completely unwarranted. Because "everything else" was (apparently) held constant.

And in any event, there is no a priori reason to assume that people of similar education and social class but different race will conduct themselves -- on average -- in the same way.

Hans Gruber


I agree that whites (or any race) can exhibit those same tendencies for about the same reasons (having something to prove to oneself and society). But given the different historical experiences, and the distinct cultures of white and black America, is it impossible that whites and blacks vary substantially in how often they exhibit these tendencies? And, depending on how well these tendencies correlate to race, it may be rational (but not, as so many here seem to believe, necessarily "good") for the car salesman to use this information to his advantage, by quoting different prices to different races, perhaps making exemptions for obvious other factors, like personality and demeanor and social class.

Gladwell seems to be going out of his way to continue to describe this discrimination as irrational. I wonder why Mr. Gladwell is so attached to the idea that this practice must be irrational. And maybe he is right, but he seems emotionally vested to this argument maybe more than I would expect.

What if it were entirely rational, from a profit maximizing perspective, what would that mean about the morality of the practice? I would say, nada; what does Gladwell say? I think he has unwisely linked the issue of whether this practice is rational to whether this practice is morally acceptable.

Ben Kennedy

I think the point that Malcom (and most liberals) fail to realize is that racism, even though it can result in human beings treating each other despicably, is rational. It falls into the same class of behavior that causes human beings to be willing to die for their children, go out of their way to help their brothers, and go travel to see their cousins on holidays. This behaivor is hard-wired into our brains - even bad parents love their children, and I hug my cousins even though I don't know them as well as my co-workers (who I do not regularly hug). The further away we get from our immediate family, the weaker the automatic closeness we feel.

Things like obviously incorrect and hurtful stereotypes are still rational in the sense that they are vestiges of past times where the main competetion in life was family against family rather than nation against nation - look at the WWII propaganda for a modern-day comparison. The main challenge we as a society face today is how can we replace loyalty to our biological and culturally distinct human families with univeral loyalty to all people. Friends, it would be nice to just say racism and dicrimination should simply disappear because they are irrational, but that is just not realistic. All human behavior is rational, and the key to changing it is to understanding why it occurs.

Regarding the Sailer/Gladwell fued, I have just one comment - I wish Malcolm had more of the Steve that is willing acknowledge racial realities, and I wish Steve that had more of the Malcolm that takes a personal interest in the day-to-day experiences of minorities.


"But given the different historical experiences, and the distinct cultures of white and black America, is it impossible that whites and blacks vary substantially in how often they exhibit these tendencies?"

No, I expect it's highly likely that there's substantial variation. It's also possible that this variation is becoming less when other factors are held constant - ie it may be that it is becoming more rational for a US car salesman to treat similarly dressed black and white customers alike, a possibility Gladwell has hinted at.

Also, more information is good - I live in London, if I were a car salesman here I think it might be very valuable to know whether a black customer was Jamaican, Somalian, Kenyan or Nigerian, since these may be quite different prospects. Likewise it's useful to know whether a white native-looking customer is Scottish or southern English, or a Mediterranean-looking customer is Spanish or Romanian.

Generally speaking, from an outside perspective it seems to me that the USA has an exaggerated black vs white racial fautline, with less of the gradations you get elsewhere; this is indeed primarily a social rather than a genetic construct, and for good or bad the black/white distinction carries a ton of information, information of use to a salesman trying to make a deal. Americans of both left & right tend to regard the US's black-white distinction as set in stone and are unaware of how much it really is a social construct of their society. What would Americans make of the news that in British schools, black working class boys do better academically than white working class boys? My impression is that right-wing white Americans respond with "Just shows the British working class are no good!"; I'm not sure how left-liberal Americans see this, if they even accept the data.


Hans Gruber:
"I think he has unwisely linked the issue of whether this practice is rational to whether this practice is morally acceptable."

I think beauty=truth and truth=beauty is a common fallacy, it seems currently most egregious among left-liberals but is not confined to them, the neocon "all people want the same things, freedom and democracy!" line is quite similar - we would like it to be true, so we insist it must be true and ignore all contrary evidence. I would prefer it if there were no large variations in median IQ by race, I would also prefer it if most Palestinians wanted nothing more than to live in peace with Israel, but I think it's better to try to see the world as it is than to adopt a policy of wilful blindness.


Ben Kennedy - as far as the rationality of racism goes, I think racism as an ideology is clearly irrational in that it often severely hurts the vital interests of its adherents. The Third Reich would have been far better off on their own terms, if they had used Jewish scientists rather than persecuted them.

If you mean 'racism' as in any discrimination by race, such as favouring one race over another in job applications or college admissions, this can be rational. On this definition the Congressional Black Caucus and NAACP are racist, as are all bodies that favour one race over another.


Dear Malcolm,

As much as I love reading your thoughts, I feel that you've kind of missed the boat on this one. Unless I overlooked your mentioning it, you seem to be spending far too much time on the side of the buyer and zero to none on the seller's side. I know you're not going to act like X salesfolk are a "control group". What's their story, background, ethnic, social, etc affiliation. What neighborhood are the salespeople working in (can have a big effect)? Who constitutes their usual clientele?

Have you ever tired sales? -- Talk about blink!?!?

If you work in face to face sales that means you have x hours in a day to spend time with x people and try and get x signatures for x $$. I work in sales (both face to face and non) and sometimes I might quote a high price just to scare someone off who I *don't* think will purchase so I don't waste my x minutes on a lost cause but rather try and find a more likely prospect. Depending on my mood and the day of the week, I may on the other hand try to give an extra discount based on a feeling that this may be a good chance for repeat business or good word of mouth, etc. Granted it's a blink thing and a gamble which does not always work in the right direction but there it is.

Again I may have read too fast but aren't you making this more into a race thing than it really is? You really can't assume what level of communication is taking place. Do the people say graduated from college and working in a bank but the salesperson "hears" still in college and intern at a bank? Are they even paying attention or looking around the floor for a better prospect with deeper pockets? How does that one salesperson function? Lots of little sales or fewer high dollar sales? All these factors and more can directly impact a person's motivation / behaviour. Again I love your writings, but I feel you're showing little grasp here of what makes a salesperson tick.

Let me say that I'm in no way trying to "defend" anything that went on but I really feel you're taking a reductionist attitude towards the situation and seeing it through glasses which you chose to wear.

PS. Re: that steve guy issue - IMHO your only obligation is to respect those who are respectful on your site. Trolls can always be banned, no one would miss them.

Peace and hairgrease and I'm out.

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  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

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