Search Site
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.


How We Decide (2009)

by Jonah Lehrer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,993628,068 (3.81)25
Offers a fascinating look at the new science of decision-making--and how it can help us make better choices.

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 25 mentions

English (59)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
So loved this book, then found out so much of it is faked! It was withdrawn by publisher for being so fraudulent. Stopped reading it... ( )
  stickersthatmatter | May 29, 2023 |
Not surprisingly, How We Decide has a fair amount of overlap with other popular books about the mind including some that I have read ([b:Blink|2142|Blink|Ted Dekker|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1160527104s/2142.jpg|54935], [b:The Time Paradox|2179276|The Time Paradox (Artemis Fowl, #6)|Eoin Colfer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348831630s/2179276.jpg|2184954], and [b:The Paradox of Choice|10639|The Paradox of Choice Why More Is Less|Barry Schwartz|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348386990s/10639.jpg|1157840]). However, despite an overlap in subject matter and in the studies cited, I feel like this book is among the better of these types of books.

In addition to presenting conclusions based on psychological studies, Lehrer uses information we have gained from studying the brain to build a description of how decision making works. The main tension when making decisions is between the emotional brain and the rational brain. Actually, that is a simplification. Both systems consist of multiple systems which may, in turn, disagree with each other. On the other side of the coin, both the emotional brain are really part of the same system and influence each other. But as a mental model, this two part view of the brain is instructive.

The details are interesting, but in the hopes of keeping things concise, I will cut to the chase. The emotional brain is good at taking in a lot of information and matching it against past experience. It's good for deciding personal preferences or making decisions in areas where you have a lot of experience. The rational brain is good at dealing with new experiences but can only take in a small amount of information. It's good at creating new solutions or making decisions when there are only a small number of factors to consider (perhaps as little as a dozen total across the possibilities).

When they work well, these two systems help each other, with the emotional brain internalizing when decisions in certain contexts lead to good and bad outcomes and the rational brain deciding when something new needs to be tried. When either of these systems fails completely (as happens with some types of brain trauma), people become unable to function independently Those who lose rational brain functionality become unable to make considered decisions. Those who lose emotional brain functionality become unable to make decisions at all.

Lehrer states in his conclusion that the most important thing you should take from this book is that you should think about thinking. This allows you to avoid stupid errors that arise from predictable brain errors (errors such as loss aversion). It also allows you to improve the working of your brain over time.

Another key thing to take from How We Decide is the idea that certainty is self defeating if you want to use your brain effectively. Certainty quiets the internal dissent that your various brain parts generate and leads to bad decisions. As Lehrer says:
The only way to counteract the bias for certainty is to encourage some inner dissonance. We must force ourselves to think about the information we don't want to think about, to pay attention to the data that disturbs our entrenched beliefs. We we start censoring our minds, turning of those brain areas that contradict our assumptions, we end up ignoring relevant evidence. ...

But the certainty trap is not inevitable. We can take steps to prevent ourselves from shutting down our minds' argument too soon. We can consciously correct for this innate tendency. And if those steps fail, we can create decision-making environments that help us better entertain competing hypotheses. ...

when making decisions, actively resist the urge to suppress the argument. Instead, take time to listen to what all the different brain areas have to say. Good decisions rarely emerge from a false consensus.

So spend some time thinking about thinking. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |

I had low expectations for this book because I read so many already in this genre. And Jonah Lehrer touched on many of well-traveled ideas and including what I find a well-traveled and boring discussion of MRI and brain activity.

But there were enough new material for me to ponder over. Like, how kids do better over time with the compliment of "You worked hard" over "You are smart" and a whole different take on the definition of a psychopath.

He ties together stories of Tom Brady, an airline pilot who landed a plane without hydraulics, and a smokejumper who survived a blaze by an unorthodox strategy. It could make you think ... and learn to think better by thinking less! Or more depending on the circumstances. ( )
  wellington299 | Feb 19, 2022 |
Too much overlap with the behavioral economics books (of which I've read too many). But the neuroscience focus makes it different enough to be worth reading anyway. ( )
  smbass | Jan 30, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
My copy of How We Decide has literally dozens of dogeared pages that I've marked to return to in this reviews as examples of the kind of thing that made me go Wow! and sometimes even buttonhole nearby friends to read them passages.
added by lampbane | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Sep 8, 2009)
As an introduction to the cognitive struggle between the brain’s “executive” rational centers and its more intuitive regions, “How We Decide” succeeds with great panache, though readers of other popular books on this subject (Antonio Damasio’s “Descartes’ Error” and Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence,” for example) will be familiar with a number of the classic experiments Lehrer describes

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jonah Lehrerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bourlot, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colacci, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dhifallah, HayetTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hartman, VictoriaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heinemann, EnricoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, MarthaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schild, MarceloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
楊玉齡Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? Isn't it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain? Some minor little activity takes place somewhere in this unimportant place in one of the brain hemispheres and suddenly I want to go to Montana or I don't want to go to Montana.

Don Delillo, White Noise
To my siblings,
Eli, Rachel, and Leah
First words
I was flying a Boeing 737 into Tokyo Narita International Airport when the left engine caught on fire.
Good decisions rarely emerge from false consensus.
Think about thinking. If you're going to take only one idea away from this book, take this one: Whenever you make a decision, be aware of the kind of decision you are making and the kind of thought process it requires. ... The best way to make sure that you are using your brain properly is to study your brain at work, to listen to the argument inside your head.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (4)

Offers a fascinating look at the new science of decision-making--and how it can help us make better choices.

No library descriptions found.

Book description

Introduction -- The quarterback in the pocket -- The predictions of dopamine -- Fooled by a feeling -- The uses of reason -- Choking on thought -- The moral mind -- The brain is an argument -- The poker hand -- Coda.

Jonah Lehrer [..] was a widely sought-after writer and speaker prior to having major published works recalled for irregularities in their intellectual content. [...] Lehrer was discovered to have routinely recycled his earlier work, plagiarised press releases, and misused quotes and facts. [...] How We Decide (2009) was recalled after a publisher's internal review found significant problems in that material as well. Jonah Lehrer in Wikipedia
Haiku summary

Current Discussions


Popular covers

Quick Links


Average: (3.81)
0.5 1
1 8
1.5 1
2 11
2.5 1
3 86
3.5 25
4 163
4.5 17
5 71

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

Canongate Books

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847673139, 1847673155

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

» Publisher information page


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 201,778,916 books! | Top bar: Always visible