- Paperback: 302 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (January 14, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0547247990
- ISBN-13: 978-0547247991
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 315 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How We Decide Paperback – January 14, 2010
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"Over the past two decades, research in neuroscience and behavioral economics has revolutionized our understanding of human decision making. Jonah Lehrer brings it all together in this insightful and enjoyable book, giving readers the information they need to make the smartest decisions.”—Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error and Looking for Spinoza
“Jonah Lehrer ingeniously weaves neuroscience, sports, war, psychology, and politics into a fascinating tale of human decision making. In the process, he makes us much wiser.”—Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational
“Should we go with instinct or analysis? The answer, Lehrer explains, in this smart and delightfully readable book, is that it depends on the situation. Knowing which method works best in which case is not just useful but fascinating. Lehrer proves once again that he’s a master storyteller and one of the best guides to the practical lessons from new neuroscience.”—Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail
“As Lehrer describes in fluid prose, the brain’s reasoning centers are easily fooled, often making judgments based on nonrational factors like presentation (a sales pitch or packaging)...Lehrer is a delight to read, and this is a fascinating book (some of which appeared recently, in a slightly different form, in the New Yorker) that will help everyone better understand themselves and their decision making.” —Publisher's Weekly, starred review
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---The Good Points---
* Lehrer does an excellent job of summarizing what is known about the brain's process for making decisions. He takes the reader through many examples of what happens on a chemical/electrical/biological basis inside the brain when it is going through a specific thought process. I found this material fascinating.
* There is also a good amount of material presented on how the brain makes decisions, and how this decision process can be enhanced or corrupted based on outside factors-how busy the brain is, the external environment, preconceived notions. In one experiment that I found fascinating, people were asked to remember either a 2 or 7 digit number. Those tasked with the two digit number were far less likely to be tempted by an offer of chocolate cake. Explained very much about my diet...
* Lehrer also takes the reader through numerous real world examples of decisions made in real time, and under stressful circumstances. Airline pilots seem to be a favorite area or research, and some of the stories and analysis were fascinating.
* The book is easy to read, light on technical and medical jargon, and presented more as mass-market non-fiction than any sort of research or scholarly work. I found it to have just the right level of technical detail, but I am pretty much a novice as brain surgery.
---The Not-So-Good Points---
* There is nothing new in the book, at least that I could discern. Mostly it is a rehash of existing work, albeit with some explanatory verbiage wrapped around it. Anyone who has read other books in this general area would probably be disappointed.
* It ended too soon. For each of the chapters, I always wanted to read more material about the subject and explanations of the results observed.
An excellent book if you haven't read much material in this area.
Throughout the book, Lehrer uses many examples that are already familiar to anyone who has read other books in this now-familiar genre. Examples include the propensity of wine experts to choose cheaper wines in blind tests; how experiment subjects based purchasing decisions on seemingly random items such as their social security numbers; and numerous others. He also reviews much familiar territory in behavorial economics/social psychology/neuroscience such as loss aversion, the anchoring effect, and the placebo effect.
One of the early messages of the book is that we should embrace emotion in our decision-making. This is contrary to the popular notion that emotions get in the way of "rational thinking." Emotions are actually critical to decision making. We are paralyzed without it. That is why Tom Brady identifies the right receiver in milliseconds; why a soap opera director can identify the "it" factor in actor rehearsals, and why a radar technician can distinguish an enemy missile from a friendly jet just by a literal blip on the radar.
The use of emotions as decision enhancement is valid technically from a physiological perspective. Lehrer deftly explains in an understandable manner the role of dopamine receptors as emotional decision makers. But, he tries very hard to maintain that ignorance is bliss. Lehrer contends Plato and his Enlightenment successors such as Decartes, Rousseau, and Jefferson (on this side of the pond) had it all wrong to promote reason over emotion. Reason is a blunt instrument suited only for the simplest of tasks. It is like a calculator - useful, but limited. And, there is such a thing as too much analysis.
EXCEPT - "Novel problems" also require reason, as Lehrer states toward the end of the book. He concedes that "intelligent intuition (emotion)" is the result of deliberate practice. So, emotions and gut feelings work well as long as you practice at it. But, then again, you cannot over think things either. In short, emotions are great usually, reason is great sometimes, but both can mislead. My main issue with the theme is that there really is no theme. He boasts the triumph of emotions over reason for the first part of the book. Then, he explains how emotions can lead us into traps. So, sometimes reason is good. But, then again, reason is limited.
The main takeaway from the book is "Think about how you think" as Lehrer states at the end of the book. And, from that perspective, Lehrer succeeds. The anecdotes have been used and re-used. There is some lack of cohesion in the overall development of the themes. But, the book will make you think about how you think.
The real life examples from sports, politics, commercial aviation, gambling, etc may seem a little dated, but they are still applicable.