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How We Decide Paperback – January 14, 2010
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The first book to use the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience to help us make the best decisions.
Since Plato, philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we blink and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind's black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it's best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we're picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.
Jonah Lehrer arms us with the tools we need, drawing on cutting-edge research as well as the real-world experiences of a wide range of deciders from airplane pilots and hedge fund investors to serial killers and poker players. Lehrer shows how people are taking advantage of the new science to make better television shows, win more football games, and improve military intelligence. His goal is to answer two questions that are of interest to just about anyone, from CEOs to firefighters: How does the human mind make decisions? And how can we make those decisions better?
A Q&A with Jonah Lehrer, Author of How We Decide
(Photo © Nina Subin, 2008)
--This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
From Publishers Weekly
“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 --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
Top customer reviews
My recommendation for those interested in why we make the decisions we do (whether from a behavioral economics/finance perspective (like myself) or otherwise), is to first read Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely) and SuperFreakanomics (Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner), and THEN this book. That way you first learn about all sorts of interesting stories -- the kind that you remember and share with others -- and THEN learn WHY that is. After that, my personal favorites include Fooled by Randomness (Nassim Nicholas Taleb), Nudge (Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler) and Getting to Why (a different "why") (Simon Sinek).
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.