How We Decide

How We Decide

3.9 46
by Jonah Lehrer

ISBN-10: 0547247990

ISBN-13: 2900547247990

Pub. Date: 01/14/2010

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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…  See more details below


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 lean on which part 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 by Daniel Kahneman, Colin Camerer, and others, 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?

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Table of Contents

1 The Quarterback in the Pocket 1

2 The Predictions of Dopamine 28

3 Fooled by a Feeling 57

4 The Uses of Reason 93

5 Choking on Thought 133

6 The Moral Mind 167

7 The Brain Is an Argument 196

8 The Poker Hand 219

Coda 251

Acknowledgments 263

Notes 266

Bibliography 274

Index 288

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How We Decide 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
oxoImmortaloxo More than 1 year ago
The first thing I'd like to point out is that this book is very versatile, in that I believe general readers will love this book just as much as I did as a student/scholar. The examples, stories, and research Lehrer used were captivating. Any football fan will love the story of Tom Brady in the chapter Quarterback in the Pocket. This study of decision making is an incredible piece of literature in the field of psychology and has been a great asset to my understanding of the mind. One of the key messages of this book was to think about how we think, in order to improve the process. Don't be alarmed by terminology if you're a general reader, as Lehrer explains the technical terms in an artful way while being informative. I could go on, but the thing I really want to say is: READ THIS BOOK!
BY10 More than 1 year ago
In How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer provides logical reasoning behind the illogical and sometimes life-saving decisions we tend to make on an everyday basis. Lehrer provides reasoning behind decisions people have made in events ranging from landing an out of control plane, to buying one product in a supermarket over the other. Lehrer refers to several scenarios, and with years of research, explains the choices made by individuals involved. In one chapter, Lehrer explains how people are more likely to take a gamble if someone tells you there is a 50% chance of winning, rather than if someone explains that there is a 50% chance of loosing. Another scenario referred to Wag Dodge, a firefighter who overcame emotion in a dangerous situation, in order to save his teammates and his self from a wall of fire. Lehrer explains the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which, in this case, was able to control emotion. This book is filled with situations and scenarios such as this. In each situation, Lehrer analyzes and dissects the scenario, explaining what physical parts of the body provide the incentive to do what each individual did. If your looking for a good book to get lost in, How we Decide doesn't really have the compelling sense of Lord of the rings. However, if you are interested in the reasoning and logic behind peoples choices, and if you are interested in understanding the human persona, How we decide is for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting information and great examples to illustrate the points. The brief summary chapter seems like a last-minute addition, so don't look for any incredible concluding insights. But overall, the book is both well done and recommended.
parish_mozdzierz More than 1 year ago
Although an engrossing and entertaining read, when finished, I found myself hardpressed to take much away of any practical value from the book. I had a similar reaction to a related book, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. The applications and implications of this line of study still seems in its infancy, at best.
writejanice More than 1 year ago
I've given this book to two of my friends as gifts. It changed how I made decisions.
apollo1682 More than 1 year ago
Lehrer does a great job at introducing neuroscience to a broad audience. Before reading this book I had never heard of prefrontal cortex or amygdala, and mistakenly viewed credit cards as a convenient tool for everyday life! From the Patriots winning the Super Bowl to a story about a psychopath hiding bodies under his house, this book is sure to keep you entertained. Even though he uses quite a few scientific terms, he does so in a way easy to understand and relate to. Great book!
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
Fascinating. The introduction has this author in a flight simulator in Canada. The first chapter discusses Tom Brady of the Patriots making a Superbowl decision. Lehrer goes on to discuss the problems one man had making decisions after the "emotional" portion of his brain was impaired. While some of the examples Lehrer chooses to illuminate his thesis are familiar from other books on psychology and neuroscience, many are new and absorbing. I came away with insights on how we make decisions under stress, and how psychology experiments are devised to test decision-making.
Compassionate-Nexialist More than 1 year ago
Lehrer summarizes the latest information about how humans decide, with particular emphasis on the pros and cons of relying on logical, conscious information-based decisionmaking as opposed to reliance on "gut" instinct. He provides, in a summary chapter, clear sensible guidelines to help us decide when to depend on which. He enlivens his presentations with gripping illustrations of occasions when people have dealt with critical decisionmaking dilemmas, such as the crisis facing a commercial airline pilot when, high above the rocky mountains, with his, his crewmates', and his passengers' lives hinging on his decisions, he must deal with catastrophic equipment failure. This is a book I would urge on anyone who suffers from abulia, or who would like to deal with life's conundrums as though he were a Vulcan.
Aarondipity More than 1 year ago
This book is exactly what I look for - new ideas, compelling presented, backed by research, and effective in presenting a new way of seeing things and acting.
M_L_Gooch_SPHR More than 1 year ago
Lehrer is a good wordsmith and made reading this book an enjoyable experience. I learned new research on the brain's reasoning centers and how they are easily fooled, causing us to make decisions based on illogical factors. This book will help everyone understand their thought processes and their decision making. I am a great fan of Blink. As such, I appreciated the author filling in some of the missing pieces that was left out of Blink. We can all something new from the practical lessons from new neuroscience. Continued research in neuroscience and behavioral economics will continue to revolutionize our understanding of human decision-making. As the field progresses, it would be my desire that Lehrer will once again explain what it all means and how to fit it into our reality. I hope you find this review helpful Michael L. Gooch - Author of Wingtips with Spurs: Cowboy Wisdom for Today's Business Leaders
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"How We Decide" is a great non-fiction book that explains the process of decision making. Jonah Lehrer grabs the reader's attention by engaging them into the idea of using the tools of neuroscience to teach them about how making decisions is a blend of feeling and emotion. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning about the logic of sports or wanting to know how the mind works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jonah Lehrer paints a vivid and clear picture on how the decision making process is made up in the brain by using scenarios from any category to help you understand what the mind goes through. He does a great job guiding the reader by using the latest tools of neuroscience and is one of the best authors that proves his knowledge about the behavior of the brain. He's also a great storyteller starting from sports to political views and makes the audience feel well informed about the text. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to learn about the logic of sports or just wants to learn about the process of making the right decision.  
dannyg123 More than 1 year ago
To me this book was alright, it had a lot of information.  it simply states a bunch of facts and little stories. it was a little confusing for me.  If you are a person who really wants to know more about how people make decisions in life, then i recommend you read this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How We Decide was written by Jonah Lehrer . He has written for The New Yorker , the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. How We Decide is a book on psychology and neurology. I think this book’s intended audience from high school aged people and up. The book is intended for the reader to think and understand the way his or her brain breaks down decisions. The title of this book is to the point because what it says is what you’re going to read about. I liked the way the book looks, reads, feels and opens. There are many likeable character in the book including Tom Brady and how he makes quick and precise decisions to lead his team to victory. The theme of this book is how your brain make decision in life. How We Decides writing style includes scientific wording. The main idea of this book is to help the reader think about how they make their own decisions. Main points of the book include many real life situations of people’s important decisions. I recommend the book to reader who wants to discover the way their brain makes decisions. I liked the way it explained the characters in good detail. Some of the words in the book are hard understand but that is the only bad thing about this book. The book really makes the reader think of his or her decisions and how they could have improved
AnnaLouise43 More than 1 year ago
I have never really sat and contemplated how people make decisions in everyday life. This book is one of a great contemplation, and deep inner thought. This is a no-fiction book that states cold true facts that Lehrer takes and makes the reader really relate to it by the stories he tells. The book is intended for a older, more mature audience. The purpose of this book is to show the reader how you make decisions (big, and small) in everyday life. The People that Lehrer mentions in the book seem to be somewhat easy to relate to because of the decisions they made in their life. He tells stories of great triumph and defeat, and the causes of them because the decisions they made. He tells stories of life and death situations or things that are so simple, like picking between a fruit cup or chocolate cake. Stories of how to land a falling plane, and how to escape a charging forest fire. Stories of deciding between amounts of money and receiving small rewards. This book makes you think about things that you would have never thought about in a million years. It’s cool to think that why your thinking about your prefrontal cortex your actually using it. It informs you about things you use to do simple tasks that you never would have even thought or know about. This is a complex writing, personally because of all the different parts of the brain Lehrer mentions and that you have to keep remembering them throughout the book. This book about thinking and the answers to why your thinking, ends up making you think more. I had to read this book for a summer reading assignment and personally it seemed a little over a ninth grader’s head and reading ability. The book was unusual because some parts were slower then others, and some stories were more interesting. Someone who is interested in learning about the anatomy of the brain, and what it does would really enjoy this book. Someone who enjoys reading less non-fiction and more fantasy would not enjoy a book like this. All in all this book is for a more complex mature realistic audience.
tanTC More than 1 year ago
People always wonder how someone is able to make difficult decisions in desperate times. For example how does someone make that life of death decision to go back into the burning towers on 9-11, how does a soldier that could save his own life jump on a live grenade to save three of his follow country men. This book gives examples similar to these and explains why someone would lay there life on the line and make the ultimate sacrifice for others. I have never read a psychology book before but after reading this one I would be open to reading others like this. How We Decide is a nonfiction psychology book that explains how the everyday humans living mediocre lives suddenly can make decision that will save the lives of others. This book is for mature audience that is able to grasp the decision making process that this book explains. This book tells many personal stories about pilots, solders, firefighters, and animals and the decisions that are made by these people and animals. The way Jonah Lehrer tells the personal stories of the people in his book makes you think about how you make decisions every day. The title explains what the book is about by the cover saying How we Decide, the cover relates to the book by the three flavors of ice cream being on the front cover. The human brain makes many decisions everyday mainly decisions like what to wear, what’s for dinner, or what movie to see. The process for making decisions is all the same and if you are interested in learning more about the brains decision making process then I recommended this book.
mary enger More than 1 year ago
When I first looked at How We Decide I was intrigued by the cover. Although the illustration on the cover is simple, I thought it fit perfectly for the book. How We Decide is a nonfiction book about psychology and neurology. I automatically knew what the book was about, but I was excited to learn more. On the cover there is a quote that says “A readily engaging literate and well researched glimpse into the great mystery of how we make up our minds”. I found this fascinating. Although I found that the book was entertaining, the main purpose is to explain how the brain works and processes decisions. Despite the fact that there aren’t any particular characters in How We Decide, there are nonfiction stories about different people and animals. I found it easy to relate to many people in the story, because a good portion of them are just normal people with normal lives. In my opinion the main point of How We Decide is to describe the brain and how it works even though the examples used are meant to be entertaining. I found How We Decide easy to read because the print is the perfect size. I also like Jonah Lehrer’s writing style because I understood most of the context he used. Although I’m usually not a fan of nonfiction books I found How We Decide was interesting, and made me reconsider how the brain works. Personally, I enjoyed reading this book because I found it held my attention and I learned so many new things about the brain that I didn’t even know existed. I had to read How We Decide as an assignment for summer reading not by choice but I’m glad I did because of all of the information I have learned. Although I did enjoy reading this book I think it would be more appealing for people in college or adults. Before reading this book I was not aware of all the small decisions we are making daily without realizing all of the details that are going on in our brains. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in nonfiction, neurology or psychology.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Until I read How We Decide, I never knew how much our brains worked in thought processes. This is one of the great books written by Jonah Lehrer, a graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes Scholar. This is a psychology based book which is intended for an audience of young adults to adults. This novel was written to give average humans, who do not have scientific knowledge about the brain, a way to learn and explore the mind. In my opinion, the title is a good choice because the entire book discusses how decisions are constantly being made by our brains. The picture of three ice cream cones with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry is the perfect choice for the cover. It catches your eye and immediately sends your brain into making choices. There are not any main characters in the book, but it is full of stories in each chapter. The main idea of the book is to explain how our brains work when making decisions. The writing style of the book is very straight to the point facts, which leads to short choppy sentences. In my opinion, this is a great book for anyone that is into phycology or non fiction science. As a reader that doesn’t care too much for these subjects, it was a hard read for me. If it wasn’t for the exciting, fast thinking heroes in the stories, I would have been lost and not interested in the novel.
LauraKatherine More than 1 year ago
Jonah Lehrer is the author of How We Decide. He's won several prizes for his informative writing. The genre for this book is nonfiction. This nonfiction work is based on psychology and neurology. I would suggest that the audience of this book be of the age 18 or older. This book is meant to enlighten you on how and why you decide. It is a nice size book with good font, so it is easy and enjoyable for most to read. In this book the author doesn't use characters. Instead he tells stories, which are really neat, to explain the decision making process. Throughout the story the author's word structure is short and to the point. He doesn't go into useless rambling details. The main idea in the book us to teach how your brain works on a day to day basis and why you make the choices you do. Also it helps you learn to make better and wiser decisions. The book touches on subjects such as rational decisions, emotional decisions, and morality. If you enjoy learning through reading, this book is for you. In one section of the book it tells how two pilots stuck in a crashing plane and had to think quickly on how to save not only their lives, but the other people on the plane's lives also. Another story the author mentions is about a chimpanzee who made a moral decision that it would rather hurt itself than see another chimpanzee that was a stranger hurting. Some parts of this book may tend to get boring and make the reader confused, but the stories that are told through the book keep you interested. Overall they make the book worth while. After reading How We Decide readers will feel a sense of intelligence because they will now have a sense of understanding on how the brain operates.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer is a non-fiction book that talks about how a person’s brain decides. This book is intended for people 15 and up, because it can really help you decide difficult decisions in life. The purpose of the book is to teach and inform people what consequences can result from their choices. The title is really good; it is straight to the point of the book. The cover of the book is really interesting because is nice and it gives 3 types of ice cream. The person has to decide which type of ice cream likes best and the book is about decision making. The book is the right size and it is really easy to read the letters. The book has many scientific terms that are difficult to understand but the author explains the meanings. The main ideas of the book are about how we think, what we think and the consequences of our actions. The book includes many different stories; as a result there are many characters but all of them are unique and incredible. The main key idea of the book is to teach a person’s brain to make important decisions in life. There was one quote that caught my attention. The quote is: A lie told well is just as good as the truth. The book includes many stories about people’s life. The reader would be surprised while reading this book. It is incredible how all of the characters took decisions and made them to consequences and actions that changed their lives. For me the book was great and it was easy to read. I really enjoyed reading all the stories of the book. Thanks to this book I know how my brain works and I also learned how to take important decisions and put them into my life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I’ve always thought science was kind of boring, but after reading this book, it seems kind of interesting. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer is written more for an older audience and to help inform how our brains work. The title fits the book perfectly because it talks about how we decide on different things. In the book, Jonah Lehrer tells different stories about how people use there brains in tough situations. Jonah likes to use a lot of scientific facts in his books. He teaches you how to make better decisions by knowing how your brain works. “But the best decision makers don’t despair. Instead they become students or error, determined to learn from what went wrong.” I think this quote means that even if you make a bad decision, you can learn from it and not make it again. If you like science or are curious about your brain, you will love this book. It gives many examples of people who had to use there brain in life or death situations. I didn’t like the book that much, but I could see how you would like it if you are interested in that kind of stuff.
ReadingInAlabama More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the personal stories, but the science was a little over my head.
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