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How We Decide

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  28,227 ratings  ·  1,293 reviews
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
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 14th 2010 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Baires Visitor did you ever visit a therapist? one doesnt need to be sick to have some wonderful discoveries about oneself, it might be helpful to know yourself a…moredid you ever visit a therapist? one doesnt need to be sick to have some wonderful discoveries about oneself, it might be helpful to know yourself a bit more, maybe going for some advice or to solve a problem could be the starting point without too much expectation. Personally I struggle to live without so much inherited superstition habits that dont help me at all. Sorry that I can't give you details about the book, just commented on what first came to my mind after reading you. Regards(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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As I am not a scientist like some other reviewers, I found this book to be quite enlightening. It was well-written and entertaining, as well.

Things I learned:

People need to use both rational thought and emotion to make the best decisions.

We need to make our own mistakes because that is how our brains get rewired not to do it again. Emotions turn mistakes into educational events and then use those lessons unconsciously.

We get cranky when we're hungry and tired because the prefrontal cortex is the
For the first half of this book I was rather annoyed. The problem was that I had heard most of the stories before and I was thinking that what I should do is write a ‘how to write a popular book on decision making’ style review. As with anyone who has found themselves on Good Reads for a while, I now can’t read a book without thinking, at the same time, how I’m going to review it.

You know, in this type of book it seems there has to be an American Football story, a plane crash or two or maybe ev
Steve Van Slyke
Apr 20, 2012 Steve Van Slyke rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Steve by: Jim, Science & Inquiry Group
Shelves: kindle, science
I probably would not have read this book had it not been recommended by someone whose opinions I respect and the fact that the Kindle version was selling for only $2.99 at the time.

I'm really glad now that I didn't miss it. Most of the science books I choose to read are interesting but very few are also what I would call “entertaining”. This book was. As other reviewers have mentioned I too am leery when I start to read a book that immediately launches into a case study, because this can sometim
Jul 14, 2013 Carly marked it as no-thanks  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one, sorry; I don't approve of plagiarism.
Recommended to Carly by: Goodreads (collaborative filtering, maybe?)
False attributions
and self-plagiarism
and plain old plagiarism...
oh, my!
I'm not a journalist; honestly, I have trouble understanding the ethical dilemmas of "self-plagiarism." Yes, I understand that one should cite oneself, but I can also understand why this would fail to occur to an author.

But seriously?
Plagiarising Gladwell?
Making up quotes from Bob Dylan?
Taking quotes from Wikipedia and pretending that they were interviews?
What makes one decide to do that?
Do explain.
03/28/14 Update.
I don't know where this review went, but I'm putting it back.

11/09/13 Update.

This is why Goodreads needs to separate itself from Amazon, and why Amazon sucks:

An average of four stars, the "most helpful negative review" is three stars, and the main page and 'negative review' doesn't mentions Lehrer's little plagiarism problem or the fact that the publisher recalled the book--they actually offered refunds. This is why I don't bother with Ama
This is one of the most entertaining "pop-psychology" books that I've read. It is filled with anecdotes and stories that illustrate the main point of the book: the emotional side of our brains makes our decisions for us, and the rational side of our brains helps justify our decisions. Sometimes, depending on our rational thoughts can get in the way of making good decisions, and can actually be a detriment. A good example is the physicist who got interested in playing poker professionally. He und ...more
To this day, this is the book I recommend the most. Partly because I pretty much only read fantasy books and that only works for certain (awesome) people, but mostly because this book does such a good job explaining how the brain works that I still remember much of the book today.

Think Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, but with much better explanations and less exciting writing.

Actually these two books use quite a number of the same studies to make their points, but where Gladwell tends toward obfuscati
Apr 16, 2009 Lisa rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: brainiacs
Recommended to Lisa by: NPR
How We Decide opens with a killer first sentence: "I was flying a Boeing 737 into Tokyo Narita International Airport when the left engine caught on fire." Right away, I am hooked. As the paragraph progresses, in heart thumping detail, my eyes flick back to the first sentence, to confirm that the author is indeed the pilot on this flight, and not a passenger.
Something strikes me as odd. Before reaching the end of the two paragraph opening page, I find myself flipping to the author photo on the b
This is a great review of neurobiology, filled with real-life examples. If you ever wondered what informs hunches, why certain things give you the heebie-jeebies "for no reason," or what neurotransmitters are involved in your "6th sense," this is the book for you.

The brain is our defining organ, giving us not only self-awareness, but also the ability to wonder about ourselves, our world, and our own mortality. It is, nevertheless, a mystery why brains work better than others---why some of us make consistently good decisions, and others never seem to learn from their mistakes.

In How We Decide, author Jonah Lehrer explores our current understanding of the human mind. In well-crafted and engaging prose, he draws on examples from professional football player

Chris Herdt
I was at the bookstore today and happened to see this book. I picked it up and read part of a couple chapters.

First of all, why would the author, who can put any picture of himself in the entire world (or no picture at all) on the back of his book choose a picture where he is wearing an unzipped hooded sweatshirt? How am I supposed to take this guy seriously? Speaking of decisions, am I right?

Second, this book seems to be formulaic pop psychology at its worst. Each chapter opens with an overly d
Riku Sayuj
A great improvement over Imagine: How Creativity Works and am I thankful for that. This is probably my first back-to-back for a non-fiction author and was dreading it every page.
A look at the existing literature on behavioral science and the conclusions it makes about how we make decisions; specifically, the book argues that we do not simply decide rationally. Rather, we use a blend of emotion, gut feeling, or instinct, as well as a rational weighing of pros and cons, when we decide. Or at least, we should. (The experimental literature is especially fascinating here, as for example in the man who has a brain injury that leaves him affectless and unmoved by emotion, and ...more
Ben Babcock
N.B. September 2013: So apparently this book is a pile of plagiarism (hat tip to Ceridwen for the info). I’m not exactly going to re-read the book so I can rewrite my review in that light. But just be aware of this fact as you read the review below.

In my recent review of The Grand Design I went on about my love of science, particularly of physics. I’ll be honest: although biology is really, really cool, I also find it kind of gross. It’s full of squishy stuff, and it was my least favourite of th
Wayne McCoy
A really interesting book about how we make decisions. It delves into the different areas of the brain to discuss their function during the decisions we make. One of the main questions raised asks if we make better decisions by being analytical or by using gut instinct. And the answer is a resounding yes.

Told with many examples, from pilots who saved airplanes, to all the decisions a quarterback has to make, to the best way to pick a strawberry jam, it's insightful, if perhaps not as conclusive
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

I have read three books that circle around the science of decision-making, especially under pressure. The most famous is BLINK; but I also grabbed on a whim a book called THE UNTHINKABLE about how people have survived extreme circumstances (such as plane crashes and acts of terrorism)... finally, on a recommendation, I read HOW WE DECIDE. They all are informed in one way or another by the new discoveries of neuroscience about how the brain work, and use the same case study techniques of FREAKONO ...more
John Wiswell
I was excited for How We Decide. Lehrer supposedly took my position, that human beings are both rational and irrational, both are important to good decision making, and they are highly interrelated. Who doesn’t like having their deeply held beliefs about the human condition validated by science? But, though Lehrer did plumb some of the rational/emotional divide, his book became more of a series of scientific anecdotes and sweeping generalizations than a proper synthesis of neuroscience. The anec ...more
I think I have to stop reading (listening to) these kinds of books (i.e. books in which an author uses psychological/neurological/behavioral economics research to explain how humans do something -- decide, pay attention, seek happiness, etc.). This one follows a similar pattern as the rest of them, discussing a lot of the same classic and newer experiments, then trying to relate the results to how we make decisions.

While that part has gotten repetitive for me, the author does come to some feasi
Sara Shakouri
About 30% of each chapter includes a 'dramatic' story, where the ability of making the right decisions in a matter of seconds (or less) would be a matter of life and death.
Then section develops to explaining what parameters are having the most effect on our decisions. The rest of the book is a collage, which among other sources is mostly taken from Daniel Kahnemann and Antonio Damasio's works, and as they were used out of their original contexts, sometimes imply misleading conclusions.
I'm in eighth grade this year and I read it last year. My teacher had it on a shelf and I thought it was a YA book not realizing it was actually on psychology. Anyway I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it made it easier to understand the concepts they were explaining by going back and showing examples. It took me about 2 weeks to finish but then again I'm only a middle school student.
What I liked: The reassurance that air travel is very safe. Big decisions should be emotional decisions. The author is wearing a hoodie in his picture (he better like drinking beer).
What I didn't like: The use of monkeys in experiments. Super sad!
Who I'd suggest it to: Anyone who likes pretending they are a psychologist. This will add more ammunition to the psychological gun.
Review Unavailable :p
It's simply because, I cannot think of an appropriate review for this book; no matter how much I wrote, it deserves much Much MUCH more <3
Jonah Lehrer, YOU ROCK!!!
Suprisingly it was a very easy and enjoyable read. The book is good and the Russian translation is amazing!!
Oct 06, 2010 Richard rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Cognitive Science reading group, KQED Forum
Shelves: cognition, bookclub
Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, was interviewed along with Zachary Shore, author of Blunder (Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions), on KQED's Forum. An archived podcast of the interview is available here.

(Selected for the Cognitive Science Reading & Discussion Group in May 2010.)

Excellent introductory book — I bumped the rating a bit above what my personal reaction was: I’ve read so many of these now that most of his lessons and examples are old news to me. But if you’re only gonna rea
I've read a few reviews saying this book trots out the same old case studies that are standard for this kind of book. That could be, but since I'm not familiar with them I'll be reviewing the book in and of itself, rather than making comparisons.

I found the subject matter fascinating and the author's enthusiasm infectious. The book sets out to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of different modes of thought - conscious and rational vs intuitive - and which situations favour which mode of th
Excellent book by a promising young author. Highly recommended to anyone who ever has to make important decisions!

I was attracted to it after hearing Jonah Lehrer on a Radiolab podcast, where he was talking about how we make rational decisions and emotional decisions (usually some mix of the two). And in order to make good decisions, we have to be conscious about these influences and judge which type of decision is appropriate for the particular situation. This idea is basically the foundation o
“Plato, for example, couldn’t help but imagine a utopia in which reason determined everything. Such a mythical society- a republic of pure reason- has been dreamed of by philosophers ever since. But this classical theory is founded upon a crucial mistake. For too long, people have disparaged the emotional brain, blaming our feelings for all of our mistakes. The truth is far more interesting. What we discover when we look at the brain is that the horses and the charioteer depend upon each other. ...more
Sarah Clement
I bought this book on a whim when I was browsing in the psychology section, mainly because this was the only book (besides Kahneman's most recent) in that section that was not a ridiculous self-help book. I'm not sure what's happening to the psychology section of book stores, but I do know that this was an excellent impulse buy. I really liked the way this book was organised. Each chapter built on the previous one, taking the reader through a really compelling narrative about how we decide - exa ...more
Disclaimer: my review will not do this book justice, so just take my word for it that you should read it.
This book ran along the same lines as Predictably Irrational and The Drunkards Walk but tended more toward a comparison of classical rationality in decision making, and reasoning based on your gut, or emotional responses that don't break down neatly in to clear reasons. Both have their place, and I guarantee you'll be surprised by some of them (make a pro/con list when buying a can opener, bu
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Why did HMH pull it? 3 39 Feb 12, 2014 02:48PM  
Decision making 6 82 Nov 07, 2012 09:14PM  
Science and Inquiry: How We Decide 20 116 Aug 23, 2012 05:14AM  
  • Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious
  • A Mind of its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives
  • The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us
  • On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not
  • Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
  • Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
  • Wait: The Art and Science of Delay
  • Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
  • Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
  • The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making
  • The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive
  • Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
  • Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique
  • The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature
  • The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home
  • What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite
  • The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
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“ ideas are merely several old thoughts that occur at the exact same time.” 23 likes
“How do we regulate our emotions? The answer is surprisingly simple: by thinking about them. The prefrontal cortex allows each of us to contemplate his or her own mind, a talent psychologists call metacognition. We know when we are angry; every emotional state comes with self-awareness attached, so that an individual can try to figure out why he's feeling what he's feeling. If the particular feeling makes no sense—if the amygdala is simply responding to a loss frame, for example—then it can be discounted. The prefrontal cortex can deliberately choose to ignore the emotional brain.” 16 likes
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