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Jonah Lehrer – How We Decide

Jonah Lehrer – How We Decide
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Author: Jonah Lehre
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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?

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.

From Bookmarks Magazine
With Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell has cornered the market on popular studies of human behavior. But Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide holds its own with Gladwell, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett, and the host of science writers increasingly focused on the complexities of the human brain. “There isn’t any spectacular revelation, unique viewpoint or knockout final summation,” noted the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post felt that Lehrer “does little to integrate science’s contradictory findings.” Lehrer nonetheless illuminates the many processes involved in even the simplest decisions. By letting the experts do much of the talking and by drawing conclusions from his voluminous research and knowledge of the field, Lehrer presents a readable account of what we know about how we decide—and acknowledges the vast universe of what we don’t.

From Booklist
Various arenas such as athletics, finance, or combat illustrate Lehrer’s popular presentation of the neurobiology of decision making. Noting the traditional distinction between reason and emotion, Lehrer (Proust Was a Neuroscientist, 2007) readably impresses the point that emotion triggers quick decisions where time is critical, such as whether a quarterback should throw a pass or whether an officer should fire a missile at an unidentified target. Their real-life stories of how a good feeling committed them to action leads Lehrer into the anatomical substrates in play.

Touching on the brain’s outer layer, the cortex, the neurochemical dopamine, and regions such as the amygdala, Lehrer describes what cognitive scientists think happens at a neural level. What about situations where time is less pressing and seems to allow rationality space to operate? Lehrer relates reason’s limitations, which bamboozle users of credit cards, patrons of casinos, and players of the TV game show Deal or No Deal. Despair not, however, that Lehrer chains people to their emotions: his tips about understanding their role in decisions provide reassuring conclusions.

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