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Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  783 ratings  ·  98 reviews
Dr. John Bargh, the world’s leading expert on the unconscious mind, presents a “brilliant and convincing book” (Malcolm Gladwell) cited as an outstanding read of 2017 by Business Insider and The Financial Times—giving us an entirely new understanding of the hidden mental processes that secretly govern every aspect of our behavior.

For more than three decades, Dr. John Bargh
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Atria Books
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Julian Worker
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book.

I read 10 pages per day on the bus into work

In the first part of the book I learned how easily manipulated people can be by priming. The second half of the book refers to the conscious and unconscious minds, helps you understand them, and makes suggestions about using your unconscious mind to help you achieve your aims in life. I am going to try some of the ideas and I know they will work.

The substance of the book is sound psychological reasons why the mind works
R Nair
Apr 19, 2018 rated it liked it
For someone reading about this topic for the first time this book is excellent since all the major recent research results are collected in here. But for those familiar with books by Kahneman and others there is not a lot that is new here.

However, after Doyen et. al. failed to replicate the priming experiments ( author Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) faced a lot of flack for his chapter detailing the studies done on priming (the effect where so
Jordan Hicks
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a great middle of the road between Blink and Thinking Fast and Slow. It offers some great, research-based insights about how the unconscious mind operates and also some great strategies for how to build/break habits and help the unconscious mind work for you, not against you.

I highly recommend to anyone even vaguely interested in psychology, anyone who wants to understand why they do what they do a little better or anyone who wants to use their brain a little more effectively.
Emily Richards
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Miss this book and miss what you are and have been and ever can be. Ten years in the making, summarizes all that Kahneman and Tversky and others have taught in recent decades about where our decisions are conscious (rarely) and where they are unconscious (mostly). Much of the research was done by Bargh and his teams. This is not merely popularization of the findings of others. Even after Taleb and Kahneman this book is a shocker. Our liking for someone is different if the drink in our hand is co ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book summarized Bargh’s life work on the subconscious. I learnt a great deal from it.

There are 2 persons inside each of us: the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious is thoughtful, takes effort and is narrow in scope. It is good for doing maths. The unconscious does not require active thoughts or effort, and is broad in scope. It is good for solving complicated problems with many parameters. Unfortunately, the latter can be quite easily affected by:

1. Culture. Asian female students
Tina Lina
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took me some time to read it, since I really need some time in-between pages to digest what I read. But I must admit it really amazed me to realise some facts like :

"We are conscious of our actions and desires, but ignorant of the causes by which we are determined to desire anything."

"Science has revealed that our unconscious mind evolved to respond to our conscious messages as long as we know how to effectively communicate those messages.. "

So much more to explore about oneself..

Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I first learned of Bargh when one of his experiments was used by a behavioural economist. I dug up a couple of his studies and found his work to be very interesting. I was excited to learn that he had recently written a book - and I was not disappointed. He references some of his studies in the past to support his thoughts. This is not an academic book, but it was very entertaining, and gave me a couple of insights into other areas. I think he'd be proud that his book helped me to release some o ...more
Robert C
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First off, this book is in a genera that I frequently read. In particular, I liked that he used so many experiments to make his point.

The experiments were the book. To explain, this book was a large number of descriptions of various experiments woven to together to create a narrative. He didn't just mention the experiment's results, Much like Malcolm Gladwell does, he explained the process.
3.5 stars, really: the topic of oneself is, of course, perpetually fascinating, and professor Bargh clearly knows his stuff. A few too many repetitions, as in so many books from the US.
Bastard Travel
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Everyone has seen the iceberg metaphor for the Freudian unconscious, but most just think "wow, look at all the weird sex stuff underwater there" without considering all the squishy equivalent of RAM tucked in between all the weird sex stuff.

Bargh unintentionally defends Zen buddhism by making the case that much of the anxiety we experience comes from our distrust of our unconscious. The reason we get eureka moments, or we're most creative when we take a break, take a shower, have a cigarette, t
Jan 12, 2018 rated it liked it
We would like to think we are in control of all our actions. Bargh shows that our past, present and future deeply influence our behavior, our choices, and our likes and dislikes, “before we know it.” (Loc 4555/7037) Our experiences influence us. Those with whom we are interacting elicit a mirroring behavior from us. Our goals, dreams, and needs color what we like, what we pay attention to, even what we buy. There is much more going on in our unconscious than we realized.

I learned a great deal fo
Raz Pirata
“On any given day how much of what we say, feel and do is under our conscious control? More importantly, how much is not?”

So here is what is going on… you are being persuaded, primed, affected, effected and subjected to a myriad of subconscious influences constantly. Throughout the day, and night, and will continue to be, for the rest of your existence. Whether you pay attention to this is up to you. But you are being influenced by your unconscious mind irregardless. This is something you should
Jun 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: brain-centric
Good work related book. Glad I read it. A bit difficult to finish. I did it during my attention deprived Covid19 stay. On to the next book!
Richard Vuu
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A lot of the book is similar to Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow.
Tl Wagener
Nov 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm always fascinated by the workings of the human mind and psyche, and so this piqued my interest at the library. It is a wonderful record of many, many academic social experiments over the years, with the results -- which are almost always presented as "surprising." I ended up skimming after several pages, though, because I felt I'd be just as educated with bullet points. I reckon the author used research assistants a great deal to write this -- there are many more words than necessary. I beca ...more
Arno Mosikyan
Interesting citations:

The breakthrough insight that Gazzaniga took away from his experiments was that the impulses that drive many of our daily, moment-to-moment behaviors originate in brain processes that are outside of our awareness, even if we are quick to understand them otherwise.

Gazzaniga argued that the conscious mind makes sense of our unconsciously generated behaviors after the fact, creating a positive, plausible narrative about what we are doing and why.

Half a century ago, Princeton p
Rock Howard
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Excellent read. Highly recommended.

This book helped reinforce many of the lessons about the unconscious that I have discovered from various sources over the years. It also helped me understand them better by putting them into a framework that makes a lot of sense to me. Some of the ideas for instilling cooperation between the conscious and unconscious minds towards the end of the book crystalize and contextualize several techniques that I have used myself.

This is a popularization of the relevant
Daniel Palevski
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great collection of research findings - 'a life's work' as he puts it himself at the end - of the author's findings regarding the strengths (and weaknesses) of the unconscious.

Well put together, easy to read, with some fairly entertaining anecdotes throughout.

My favorite and most powerful takeaway from this book - while your conscious mind is largely responsible for a lot of things that we would describe as 'executive functions' (talking, making appointments, eating) our unconscious is responsi
Aug 06, 2018 rated it liked it
If you've never read anything on the topic, this book pulls together a good deal of research and presents it all in one place. For that, it's invaluable. For the widely read, there are a lot of repeat tales from other books and authors, since there are only so many ground breaking studies to go round. So read it for the first time and marvel, or read it as an a familiar and skim. Either way, it's well worth it.
Peter A.  van Tilburg
Bargh gives an interesting overview of much research with regard to the unconscious. It is nice to read who he uses his research findings in his personal life. His epiphany on the unconscious which comes first before the conscious seems simple and logic but most findings seem so in hindsight. He describes how the past influences the subconscious by the cultural and family values and that experiences you have effect you in what comes afterwards (‘life lingers’). Then he moves to how the present i ...more
May 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
It's my fault. I saw the praise from that annoying Malcolm Gladwell on the cover and still wanted to read this. If I had read this without knowing the author's identity, I'd swear it was him.
I enjoy books about psychology, but felt more confused than enlightened after Bargh plowed through about 1,000 "studies" over 300 pages.
For someone with ample knowledge about what makes people tick, he seems hopelessly naive. He couldn't get through a page without outlining at least two long-winded studies,
Matt Cannon
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Every now and then you get books that are on your bookshelf a while before you get to finish them. This was one of those books for me. I picked it up from the bookstore for a bargain some time ago, but never got to read it. That changed when I finally got to dive into it recently. This book explains how our unconscious mind drives many of our decisions. He breaks down several hidden factors to show us how our decisions are influenced. He talks about our hidden past, present and future. He explai ...more
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
I didn't particularly enjoy this for three main reasons:

(1) I was already familiar with most of the experiments on "priming" from Daniel Kahneman's 2011 book, "Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow". This came out 6 years later and didn't seem to really add anything.

(2) I did not find it particularly well written. It didn't "flow" for me.

(3) Bargh does not address at all the criticism of his priming experiments which have been pretty widely disseminated.

See, e.g:

Donn Lee
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this book packed with stuff I could use. It felt like a really long, expanded list of "life hacks", but at no time did it get monotonous or like Bargh was dragging it longer than it needed to. Many of the things that were in this book I'd read elsewhere as well, but having it all in one place is great - like a nicely curated list of the best psych hacks.

What I wasn't too much of a fan of was, however, the fact that he kept alluding to his crocodile dream, one that he mentioned in the sam
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The human unconscious mind has been around for quite some time, including before our conscious mind arose. It stands to reason then that our unconscious mind continues to drive much of our thoughts, emotions, and actions. John Bargh provides ample research findings showing the impressive sway our unconscious mind has over our existence, in most cases without our conscious mind even being aware of the influence.

There are of course ways to leverage this immense hidden power through acknowledgemen
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hmm. This book is full of information. Actually takes a while to process it. Since it is really big, in knowledge I mean, not physically.
There are quite a lot of researches John Bargh shows, and then draws the conclusions.
So it has really useful information, showing how big the unconscious truly is. From little asian children thinking they have to be good at math to woman thinking they have to be beautiful all the times.
Really interesting, I recommend it to feed your mind some good informatio
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author and his colleagues devised some ingenious ways to study the human unconscious. Dr. John Bargh has written an engaging narrative about his research, and proposes some surprising--and some not-so-surprising--theories about innate and environmental influences on our thinking and behavior. His conclusions suggest that as we become more aware of what is going on in our own minds, we can use this information to better ourselves as people--make better decisions and be better problem-solvers. ...more
Daniel Alvarado
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Fantastic book. It took me a while to finish reading it but it was well worth it. This book gives a great perspective on the unconscious mind without too many technical terms so that a normal audience would find it interesting. The principles and studies describe can be applied to everyday life. In understanding that your unconscious controls more than you think, you will become open to a new perspective on life and will have a new metric to improve. There is even advice towards the end over how ...more
Aug 24, 2018 marked it as to-keep-reference
According to John Bargh, the pioneer in this research, these experiments show that most mental processes happen automatically, without the need for conscious attention or control. Most automatic processes are completely unconscious, although some of them show a part of themselves to consciousness; for example, we are aware of the “stream of consciousness” that seems to flow on by, following its own rules of association, without any feeling of effort or direction from the self.

The Happiness Hypo
Karly T.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geek-out
This is a MUST read. I personally geek out on human behavior and motivation... but this audiobook would be excellent for anyone looking for insight into their own mind and behavior or the behavior of others within the environmental and cultural context. It’s loaded with evidence based scientific studies, but it’s easily digestible as the author throws in little references and anecdotes to make the concepts stick for the reader. I stretched this book out for 2.5 months because I didn’t want it to ...more
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[Basic academic and radio bio material at the end]

"Before You Know It" is my first book for a general audience. I've edited a dozen or so academic books covering research and theory in psychology, but writing this book was a completely new experience. It is about my career as a scientist interested in free will and what human consciousness is actually for -- I wanted a better, more specific answer

News & Interviews

Did you set an extremely ambitious Reading Challenge goal back in January? And has this, uh, unprecedented year gotten completely in the way of...
14 likes · 7 comments
“Acknowledging that you do not have complete free will, or complete conscious control, actually increases the amount of free will and control you truly have.” 5 likes
“The unconscious evaluation of everything does appear to be a very old and primitive effect that existed long before we developed conscious and deliberate modes of thought.” 1 likes
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