Malcolm Gladwell talks about his new book’s connection to UAB


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Famed author and social scientist Malcolm Gladwell’s new book has an interesting connection to UAB. Gladwell came to campus Wednesday to speak about “Talking to Strangers” which addresses how people make sense of strangers and the way those interpretations can have a lasting impact.

“I was looking for a series of cases,” he explained. “The book is really a series of cases that illustrate this difficulty that we have.”

Those cases include everything from Sandra Bland and her interaction with police; to the deceptions of Bernie Madoff; and the 1963 suicide of poet Sylvia Path.

“So many of the high-profile cases that we’re dealing with are version of this problem, of not being able to understand a stranger,” said Gladwell.

The book also offers Gladwell’s thoughts about trust and deception. He said the book deals with the theme that trusting people comes with a price. “It means that we will be deceived,” he said, “and I come down on the book on the side of saying, the worst thing for us to do in response to being deceived because of our trusting nature–is to abandon our trusting nature.”

Gladwell credits his single biggest intellectual influence for “Talking to Strangers” as Dr. Tim Levine and his Truth-Default Theory: A Theory of Human Deception and Deception Detection.

He explained that Levine thought more about the question–why are we so easily deceived and what are the consequences of that–than anyone else. Gladwell said, that’s the reason that he came to Birmingham. Levine is the chair of the UAB Department of Communication Studies.

Gladwell told the audience that he came across Levine’s study after speaking at a conference where one of the participants suggested that he check it out. Gladwell would eventually travel to Birmingham to meet with Levine for a “long and interesting conversation.”

“I want people to slow down,” said Gladwell. “I want for people to be comfortable saying, when they’re asked about someone they just met, how they feel about them or think about them, the more they interpret them…they say, I don’t know yet. I think that’s fine.”

Watch more from our interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point”, “Outliers”, “David and Goliath”, “Blink”, and many more. Gladwell also has a popular podcast, Revisionist History, which is in it’s 4th season. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people by Time Magazine, and one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers.

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