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How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

July 25, 2009


This is a study of how we make decisions. Through interesting case studies and backed with a good deal of scientific and psychological research, and layman’s neurophysiology, Lehrer explains how different parts of our brain function when we’re presented with choices.

Using examples as varied as Tom Brady searching for an open receiver, focus group participants ranking spreadable jams, pilots landing malfunctioning airliners and professional poker players sniffing out bluffs, Lehrer explains how making the right decision involves a struggle between our rational and logical brains. The misconception is that using logical problem-solving always leads to better decisions. But Lehrer argues that depending on the type of decision, the number of factors involved, and the level of our experience, relying on our “emotional brain” is often more accurate. This is because we condition our brain and the dopamine levels in it to predict certain outcomes—in other words, we train our instincts to “sense” the right decision and can react much faster than our logical brain could.

Many people have rightly compared this book to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Both are about decision-making, but How We Decide is better supported and seems a little clearer in its thesis. Overall, a very enjoyable listen. David Colacci, who I recently listened to reading Wonderboys, does an excellent job here as well.

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