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

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  368 Ratings  ·  63 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
Kindle Edition, 306 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2010)
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Kater Cheek
Oct 01, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Azita Rassi
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fascinating subject matter and wonderful style of writing. The writer has a delightful knack of making complicated concepts both accessible and attractive. Great read.
John Kaufmann
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
Jan 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
Somewhat interesting, but bothersome biases and beliefs of the author got in the way.
Mark Speed
Feb 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Pap Lőrinc
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
The book can be summed up with the sentence, that appeared a lot more often than it should have: ``and that's exactly what the researchers have found``.

Why is the following story disturbing: ``poor family; their dog died in an accident; they had to eat the dog``? It's obviously, because the dog was basically part of the family - but the book always gravitates towards stupid, made up evolutionary causes, like: ``we simply cannot say why this is wrong, we just feel it; the cause might be an evolut
Pete Welter
Apr 20, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Clark Hays
Nov 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 22, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 17, 2014 rated it liked it
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.
Dec 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The heuristics explained are fascinating. I now find myself understanding why I think in certain patterns and why it is or isn't helpful. I really like the many case studies and psychologists experiments detailed in the book.
Gypsy Lady
Apr 07, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
My name is Jon. In 2008, Andrea Axelbert of Haxlor university conducted a study and asked 100 participants whether my name was Jon. 89% said that it was.

This is my amazing review of On Second Thought. In 2017, another study was conducted by Antoine Figenberger of The Institute of Amazing Reviews in which the subjects were asked whether this was a review and whether it was amazing, somewhat amazing, slightly amazing, or not amazing. 98% of participants agreed that it was a review, and 85% of par
Tyler Standish
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Heuristics are short cuts we use to make decision making faster. Sometimes that's a good thing, other times not so much. Marketers know about heuristics and use them to sell you products, you should know them too. This book can help understand why our brain takes short cuts.
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: self
There are a lot of really fascinating ideas and pieces of research in this book. It does seem that some of the studies draw conclusions before it is clear whether there is enough evidence to support them (correlation or causality?). Nevertheless, it was so interesting to see the pros and cons of different brains at work, their abilities or lack thereof equaling strengths or weaknesses depending on the situation.

A quote I liked: Scarcity can even skew our choices of lovers and partners if we're
Matthew Foster
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it
There r no strategies for personal growth n this book. A lot of interesting studies that r definitely useful but often times not much more than anecdotal.
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Finished it. Learned a lot. Bleh... :/
Oct 08, 2011 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
Feb 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
On second thought, I wonder why I should have suspected any differently. About the third time the author uses the just-so story of how life on the savanna was so basic, but we've outgrown that, I was questioning everything about this little tome. I wonder whether I ought to bother; the settled (psychological) science(?) of today will turn out to have been wrong when the next new theory takes the world by storm. So many experiments outlined start off with admitting what it is they set out to prov ...more
Sep 30, 2013 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.
Nov 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 03, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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 rated it really liked it
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 10, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The writing style is not bad, but I have a hard time personally buying into a lot of the heuristics and collegiate studies. e.g. Fat poor people are most likely having problems with weight in my opinion because $1 burgers are cheaper than organic juicing etc. not because they subconsciously are stocking up. Maybe, but I'm not convinced. However, there are some interesting topics discussed that might make some interesting data sets to run through machine learning algorithms.
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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."
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
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