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Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious [Hardcover]

by Gerd Gigerenzer
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 5, 2007 0670038636 978-0670038633 1
An engaging explanation of the science behind Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling Blink

Gerd Gigerenzer is one of the researchers of behavioral intuition responsible for the science behind Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink. Gladwell showed us how snap decisions often yield better results than careful analysis. Now, Gigerenzer explains why our intuition is such a powerful decision-making tool. Drawing on a decade of research at the Max Plank Institute, Gigerenzer demonstrates that our gut feelings are actually the result of unconscious mental processes—processes that apply rules of thumb that we’ve derived from our environment and prior experiences. The value of these unconscious rules lies precisely in their difference from rational analysis—they take into account only the most useful bits of information rather than attempting to evaluate all possible factors. By examining various decisions we make—how we choose a spouse, a stock, a medical procedure, or the answer to a million-dollar game show question—Gigerenzer shows how gut feelings not only lead to good practical decisions, but also underlie the moral choices that make our society function.

In the tradition of Blink and Freakonomics, Gut Feelings is an exploration of the myriad influences and factors (nature and nurture) that affect how the mind works, grounded in cutting-edge research and conveyed through compelling real-life examples.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gigerenzer's theories about the usefulness of mental shortcuts were a small but crucial element of Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller Blink, and that attention has provided the psychologist, who is the director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, the opportunity to recast his academic research for a general audience. The key concept—rules of thumb serve us as effectively as complex analytic processes, if not more so—is simple to grasp. Gigerenzer draws on his own research as well as that of other psychologists to show how even experts rely on intuition to shape their judgment, going so far as to ignore available data in order to make snap decisions. Sometimes, the solution to a complex problem can be boiled down to one easily recognized factor, he says, and the author uses case studies to show that the Take the Best approach often works. Gladwell has in turn influenced Gigerenzer's approach, including the use of catchy phrases like the zero-choice dinner and the fast and frugal tree, and though this isn't quite as snappy as Blink, well, what is? Closing chapters on moral intuition and social instincts stretch the central argument a bit thin, but like the rest will be easily absorbed by readers. Illus. (July 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Trust your hunches, for intuition does have an underlying rationale, according to this accessible account from a German scientist of human cognition. Permeated with everyday scenarios, such as picking stocks, schools, or spouses, the book adopts an evolutionary perspective of how people act on the basis of incomplete information (usually successfully). He sets the table with an example of a baseball player pursuing a fly ball, who relies not on conscious calculation but on an evolved "gaze heuristic" to make the catch. Definitions of such rules of thumb dot the text, which Gigerenzer embeds amid his presentations of studies that indicate, for example, that financial analysts don't predict markets any better than partially informed amateurs. Explaining this as an outcome of a "recognition heuristic," Gigerenzer argues that knowing a little rather than everything about something is sufficient to take action on it. He forges on into medicine, law, and moral behavior, succeeding in the process in converting a specialized topic into a conduit for greater self-awareness among his readers. Taylor, Gilbert

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1 edition (July 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038633
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 81 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Gut Feelings" is a work aimed at a more general audience. Gerd Gigerenzer has written a number of academic works on the subject of this book; these would not be as readily accessible to a larger audience.

Since I find his scientific works most intriguing, I think that this specific book is apt to be most interesting for readers. It deals with a subject relevant to the recent best seller "The Black Swan." It makes for a nice comparison to read both volumes. Both authors speak to the poor record, for example, of stock analysts in predicting what stocks do well and what do not do well. However, their analyses march in different directions.

The dusk jacket notes the central focus of the work: "How does intuition work? What lies behind our moral behavior if not reflection and reasoning? How can simple `rules of thumb' help amateurs beat the stock market, outfielders catch a fly ball, parents choose a school, or lovers choose a mate?"

The main argument of the author is that the evolutionary process has led humans to develop "rules of thumb" or "heuristics" that tend to lead to efficient decision making processes. Does statistical analysis give better results than heuristics? Not necessarily, says the author.

What are these "shortcuts"? For instance, what if you are in a decision making situation and you need to respond to someone who may cause you problems or cooperate with you? The evidence suggests the value of a specific game with rules. As Gigerenzer puts it (page 62):

"(1) Cooperate first, (2) keep a memory of size one, and (3) imitate your partner's last behavior."

In plain English: If you are in competition with someone, at first cooperate. If they cooperate, you would continue cooperating.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
I once saw some slow motion film of some world-class cricketers. Some of the best batsmen closed their eyes in the face of a ball hurtling towards them at over 100 miles per hour. Yet they still hit the ball with remarkable accuracy. There are similar puzzles in baseball. You can describe the trajectory of the ball with all kinds of clever mathematics, but the clever outfielder knows little about such arcane mysteries. He watches the flight of the ball and automatically keeps the angle between his eyes and the ball constant.

A neuroscientist consulting with a major car manufacturer showed them a way to develop a very simple proximity sensor based on the nervous system of a locust. When locusts swarm, they somehow avoid bumping into each other. It turns out that the circuit involves only four neurons. But saves the locusts - and weekend motorists - an ocean of hurt.

The cricketer, the baseball player and the locust represent three examples of ways in which the nervous system uses simple rules to allow us to functions in complex situations. If we had to use all of our brainpower to solve every problem we would never get out of bed.

Gerd Gigerenzer is a well-known and influential figure in neuroscience: he directs the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Plank Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. He is a superb presenter who is much in demand at major international conferences and he has won numerous awards including the American Association for the Advancement of Science Prize for Behavioral Science Research. He is also the author of the seminal work: Adaptive Thinking: Rationality in the Real World (Evolution and Cognition Series).
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a solid book, based on a very interesting insight: that in a lot of cases, more information doesn't lead to better decisions, but worse ones. As it turns out, the additional information only serves to obscure our view of the most important factor in the decision. This isn't just true for fallible human brains, but also when all the data is plugged into a computer for a big, nasty regression equation.

Cool, huh?

So why not five stars?

Because the book peaks in the first two chapters as Gerd Gigerenzer (truly one of the all-time great author names) very clearly explains his insight to you using the fascinating concept of how humans catch a fly ball. (Hint: it isn't by doing all sorts of subconscious calculations about speed and trajectory)

From there on out, it's just one example after another of the same concept. By chapter four, when new examples get introduced, you're already projecting out exactly how people traditionally view it and how Gigerenzer's research shows things actually work. The good news is that shows Gigerenzer is a good teacher; the bad news is that the book is clearly too long.

So I'd highly recommend this first two or three chapters of this book to learn about Gigerenzer's very interesting, counter-intuitive and well-explained insight. As soon as you feel like you get the idea, though, I'd move on to your next book - you won't be missing any new ideas.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
We seldom have full information, and we seldom have enough time to deliberate. Pure reason, in other words, is impractical in a bustling world. But we must decide, every hour, matters that affect us. So we exercise our gut feelings.

What is intuition, and where do we get it? Its very nature makes it elusive. Gigerenzer's contribution is to try to answer these hard questions.

The archetype is the fielder chasing a fly ball. A logical solution would require an intricate calculation of speed, distance, motion, and trajectory. No time. So the fielder applies an instinctive rule that he has learned from having chased thousands of fly balls: "keep the ball at a constant bearing from yourself". (Mariners, by the way, apply the rule consciously: a moving ship at constant bearing will hit you.) It works.

Such rules of thumb work in millions of other applications, from the mundane ("pick the stocks of companies you recognize") to the potentially deadly (heart attack or heartburn? Five simple one-at-a-time questions will yield a more reliable answer than a 50-variable formula that tries to account for everything).

Intuition is simply the mind filling in blanks. It has learned to do this from a combination of evolution and experience. For example, thousand of years of evolution have fixed in our minds that most light comes from above. Therefore, when we view circles drawn on a flat sheet, top-shaded circles appear as indentations, bottom-shaded circles appear as pop-outs.

Experience has taught us that brands we recognize are better quality than brands we don't. That rule is imperfect. Advertisers have learned to exploit it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The kiddie pool of heuristic research
Gerd's works are brilliant and, frankly, I think he has a pretty cool job. The study of how people actually make decisions, logic and rationality aside, is a fascinating subject... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dan Bergevin
5.0 out of 5 stars A good quick read
This is the guy that Malcolm Gladwell "borrowed" many of the ideas in Blink from. In contrast to Gladwell's work, this book is short and to the point. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Graham S.
5.0 out of 5 stars Opens New Door For Understanding Human Nature As Social and Caring
I just enjoyed re-reading Gerd Gigerenzer's book "Gut Feelings". The reason I wanted to re-read it is to compare what Gigerenzer says about social instincts to what Matthew... Read more
Published 6 months ago by silver elves
5.0 out of 5 stars Why are so many books about 'biases''wrong? (Oh, and in the process,...

Are we really that flawed that in order to figure out which pizza to order you need to do multiple regression analysis? Read more
Published 8 months ago by Muir
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating read
For anyone interested in the brain or psychology, this book is a must-read. The non-conforming view that our intuition is guided by real, tangible evolution-based rules is... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Michael Hatmaker
5.0 out of 5 stars Confirms intuition as a proven legitimate problem solving tool for men...
I breathed a sigh of relief as I read this book and it confirmed how I operate and think. Not everyone puts rationality and common logic on a pedestal when it comes to solving... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Duane Hennessy
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much of the reserch is uncited or not availabel in peer reviewed...
The author makes some pretty controversial claims suggesting that using quick heuristics often out-perform more information intensive forms of decision making. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Adam
5.0 out of 5 stars great reading]
I found this book very educational, insightful and well written.
For a complicated subject the book is easy to read and the subject matter easy to comprehend. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Rufus
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading
I read this long ago so maybe it isn't fair to review it now. However, I remember being surprised at the research findings - it's always good to feel surprised as it feels as if... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Rebecca
4.0 out of 5 stars I find it not an easy read
The book came in great shape, early, but its just not that captivating to me. I had expected it to cover more than it actually does. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mary C. Cain
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