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On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  297 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Our lives are composed of millions of choices, ranging from trivial to life-changing and momentous. Luckily, our brains have evolved a number of mental shortcuts, biases, and tricks that allow us to quickly negotiate this endless array of decisions. We don’t want to rationally deliberate every choice we make, and thanks to these cognitive rules of thumb, we don’t need to. ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 14th 2010 by Crown (first published January 1st 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,245)
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John Kaufmann
Excellent little book on some of the hard-wired mental shortcuts (heuristics) we use to facilitate many of our daily decisions. Life would soon become overwhelming if we had to grind out every little decision we make by rigorous analysis or deep thought. Many of these heuristics are hard-wired - they served us evolutionarily. They were never designed to be perfect - they work most of the time, but not all of the time (we evolved to fear snakes, even though many/most are not dangerous - better to ...more
Apr 09, 2011 Doug rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about little mental short-cuts we make and are often unaware of. Explanations through Evolutionary Psych. are common. Some of them are just amusing and some are rather thought provoking. If you have an interest in psychology and how we think, or think we think, then I recommend it. The chapters are not all that related, so it is a good book to just pick up and read a bit, then lay by the side until you need some reading material. Great coffee shop book for me. Informs me of some of ...more
Kater Cheek
I've read so much pop science on neurology that I'm always skeptical that a book will surprise and delight me with new information, and I'm delighted to say that this book does. Herbert wins by focusing on heuristics, an important idea that is usually touched on in any books that discuss how people think but rarely to this extent.

Heuristics affect people in every way from dieting to political game theory. You may have heard of this as "priming" and the most commonly repeated study is the one whe
Mar 07, 2014 Monica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Somewhat interesting, but bothersome biases and beliefs of the author got in the way.
Pete Welter
I got this book because I've become interested in our decision-making process...and especially how many of our decisions are made on autopilot where hidden and sometimes counter-intuitive biases have significant effects on what we do.

"On Second Thought" is a survey across a diverse set of heuristics - mental shortcuts - that we use to figure out what to do in a variety of situations. Herbert categories these heuristics into three major categories: those involving the body, those involving numbe
Mark Speed
Feb 08, 2014 Mark Speed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Your brain is destroying your life. You. Yes you, brain! You are an incompetent idiot! You were designed for a simple life on the savanna, and your primitive behaviour is trashing my life, and the lives of everyone on this planet.

True story. I was reading this book and having internet dates at the same time. For the first time in years, I had a terrific date. We were compatible on every level. The only downer was that she was then unavailable for ten days due to family and work commitments. Stup
Clark Hays
Nov 08, 2011 Clark Hays rated it really liked it
Fascinating and approachable

Note: this review first appeared on Amazon

This is one of those books -- like "Connected" (Christakis and Fowler) and "The Politics of Happiness" (Bok) -- that gets beneath what we think we think and helps us arrive at what we actually think and, more importantly, why we think it. "On Second Thought" is light and easy to read, which is not a critique as it is loaded with illuminating studies from the edges of this science frontier. This is a powerful and illuminating f
Jan 01, 2011 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An easy and interesting read, though the conclusions Herbert draws from some of the studies are a little out there. Also, there's no real unifying message to the book. There's no concluding chapter to speak of, the book just ends after his chapter on how we "default."

The studies are intriguing, but being a Psychology major has made me a little wary of "taking someone's word for it" when it comes to results. Especially when the results are then used to justify some overarching message in the give
Sal Coraccio
Aug 04, 2013 Sal Coraccio rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brain
Good, what amounts to, an introductory or at best, high-level, book on cognitive psychology; heuristics in particular.

Certainly fascinating material ("framing" is my particular fave)regardless of the delivery mechanism. I have a tough time saying anything really laudatory about the thing, though it really is quite good. The presentation is more of a journalistic report, rather than a scientific exploration with more exposition than contextual explanation. For the latter there are plenty to choos
Feb 10, 2013 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Listened to this one on Audible and found it a very interesting overview of the shortcuts that our brains are hard-wired to take in different areas. Shortcuts that made sense throughout our evolution to keep us alive may not always be either valid or helpful in the modern world, and this book outlines a different category in each chapter and gives explanation and examples of each. It's meant as an introduction for the layman and is very approachable, probably not detailed enough for someone actu ...more
Mar 03, 2015 Kara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I like what the author tried to do here. But I think it has been done better. For example, I far preferred The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonical which seemed to site several of the same studies, and came to the same conclusions, but gave more suggestions for application in the readers' lives.
Gypsy Lady
Page 29
We “see” the world through the lens of our emotions, and our vision in turn shapes our fears, motivation, and self-esteem. Call it the visionary heuristic.

Page 70
The Greek system embodies much that is sad and unflattering about human nature, especially the cruelty of exclusion and the often desperate need to belong. Psychologists are very interested in these dynamics, because they apply beyond the frat house. Why is inclusion in groups and clubs so important to us, and what cognitive and
Sep 16, 2013 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in how the brain works
Shelves: 2013
Interesting how the brain works. This book picks a to of things the brain does (shortcuts, ways of thinking that are not always beneficial nowadays etc) and examines them. By understanding better how the brain works you can train yourself better. Whether it's understanding why prices are always ending like they are, or retraining your ideas of aging more gracefully (the people who have the worst mental image about the old people tend to age the worst), or tackling your undoables or quitting the ...more
Adriano Ariganello
Interesting breakdown of how and why the brain operates the way it does. It dives into the politics of 2008, with the election of Obama, in an almost unnecessary way. It seems distracting considering the rest of the book does not delve into current events. Even with that strange aside, I found it to be very interesting and well researched.
Nov 23, 2014 Renna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The sort of science book that wears out its welcome before its pages are over. Repeated pop culture references seem dated and do nothing to further the content of this book. While the premise is how to outsmart your brain's habits, the actuality of the book is a discussion of those habits but nothing about overcoming them.
Oct 28, 2013 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, audio
It would probably have been more interesting if I hadn't already read tons of books like it. The same examples get old after a while. So does the repetitive use of the word "heuristic". Enough already!

The format is a bit textbookish, so I recommend this to all students of heuristics. Otherwise, go read some Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely, How We Decide or Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.
Jan 06, 2013 Z rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating. I think it is useful be familiar with the way our minds tend to work on an unconscious level, since we do most of our thinking quickly and and unconsciously...the heuristics (universal and hardwired unconscious biases)discussed in this book will probably not come as a shock to intelligent people, but the extent to which these heuristics continue to influence people, and possible reasons these heuristics developed in the first place, is eye-opening and quite genuinely entertaining... ...more
Andrea James
Mar 10, 2014 Andrea James rated it liked it
Shelves: decision-making
The author doesn't really offer anything more than the standard behavioural economics experiments and heuristics but it's written reasonably entertaining so worth a peruse if you are a fast reader and fancy some light reading.
Mia Emslie
Only got a third of the way through this. Good premise.. interesting ideas, but rather repetitive. Would be better to read than listen to.
Eslam Elsheikh
I really enjoy reading the books including physical evidence, as there is a thin space for you to argue!!
Apr 16, 2014 Sabin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened-to
Teaching by using examples, not a bad way to do it, but a bit more meat would have gone a long way.
Apr 26, 2012 Marcus rated it it was ok
This book is full of the type of psychology studies that make me really question the validity of psychology as a scientific discipline. There is surely something to the idea that decision making process is susceptible the bad influence of evolved mental heuristics, but I feel like that concept is stretched to the breaking point here.

Several of the studies in the book are found here in the "couldn't replicate" category which is, in case you're wondering, not a good pla
Jul 12, 2012 Andres rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really dug this book. I will say the intro threw me. It brought up a great example of people misjudging avalanches and basically said it would discuss ways to handle flaws in our thinking. While the book did a great job going over experiments on how our brain works (my cup of tea, exactly!), it didn't really stick to this thesis. The avalanche example was kind of absent too. That said, excellent quick read if you want another behavioral psychology/economics book on how your brain is fooling you.
Aug 03, 2012 Gloria rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My minor in college was philosophy, but it just as easily could have been psychology. I really enjoyed listening to this book, hearing how the brain which got the human race to where we are today is still there, perhaps impacting our everyday decisions. The book deals with human heuristics - hardwired tendencies we apparently inherit at birth. Perhaps more interesting to me because of my computer background, heuristics are techniques used in computer programming to simulate human-style reasoning ...more
Mar 02, 2016 Artem.linco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've just read "Thinking Fast And Slow". And quite a few things overlap. This book focuses more on inborn shortcuts our mind uses. The other book is more readable I find.
Tags: 10000 hours to mastery, momentum heuristic,
Aug 18, 2015 Vlad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Self-help Quote: "These findings are a bit puzzling, and the authors raise some intriguing questions: Would dieters actually benefit from the sight of the dessert cart rolling by? Should alcoholics keep liquor in the liquor cabinet—paradoxically to help with self-control? The intuitive answer to such questions is no, but the evidence from these studies suggests that it might not be a resounding no. Long-term self-control may actually be enhanced by living with temptation."
Siobhan Richardson
Fascinating information!!
Andrew Sebastian
File Under: Heuristics and its impact OR perhaps Gladwell was onto something with Blink and thin slicing
Dec 14, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-books-read
Had I not been listening to this book I might have given up on it. The thing to remember is though important to understand how we might be hardwired, we have the ability to control and choose our own behaviors. Being aware of "why" I might find myself leaning towards hard wiring thinking, I still am in control. This could be the difference in my worldview that we have a Creator and not left to evolution. I am glad I did stick with it.
Ricky Catto
Jan 14, 2016 Ricky Catto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Interesting. Not a ton of new learning (I'd read the white papers on most of the studies mentioned) but put together well. We take mental shortcuts all the time called heuristics. The book groups them into bunches and shows how they are efficient and wonderful at the same time as being dangerous and destructive. Worth reading for the insights.
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