Drew Johnson's Reviews > How We Decide

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
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's review
May 04, 2011

really liked it
Read in May, 2011

Decision Making and cognitive development is a topic I enjoy reading about. Thinking about how we think is an important skill. Other books in this genre I have read include Group Think, Predictably Irrational, Talent Code, and Blink. While this covered some of the same ground and in some cases reviewed the same research, this was as good as any of the other books in the category. As Dumbledorf tells Harry Potter: we are defined by our decisions, not our abilities. Yet we don’t understand our own decision making process very well. Good decision making (particularly in times of Plato) has been equated to our ability to rely on logic and reason but current research shows we need to utilize our reason and our feelings/emotions together and know what to emphasize when.
Other tidbits: the prefrontal cortex which integrates emotions into the decision making process is one of the last areas of the brain to fully develop which explains why a lot of teenagers exercise bad judgment.
A study of rats with stimulated dopamine showed they literally were transfixed by bliss and died because they wouldn’t eat or sleep. The same applies to a crack addict who over stimulates his brain and loses interest in all other activity.
To help the brain build decision making capability any surprise in the brain’s predicted outcome is elevated in the brain—a surprise circuit sounds an alarm and recalibrates. Unpredictable rewards or punishments are 4x more stimulating to neurons than a predicted reward or punishment
Intelligent intuition is the result of deliberate practice
Niels Bohr: “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field”
Mistakes should be carefully investigated and cultivated to help us recalibrate and learn
Help children view mistakes as ways to learn, not signs of stupidity and praise them for working hard, not being smart.
Evidence shows a “hot hand” in basketball is a myth. A player who has made 3 shots in a row is less likely to make his next shot than then if he had missed 3 in a row.
Loss aversion is powerful. Bad is stronger than good. That’s why it takes 5 kind comments to compensate for one critical comment.
Sometimes our emotions lead to perceptual narrowing (reducing our perceived options as we cling to emotion not reason). Wag Dodge and men in fire in Montana. Fire is raging toward them. Instinct is to run but fire is moving faster than they can run. All perish except Dodge who stopped running and set a fire around him before the big fire reached him. This is a case of reason overriding emotion.
A case where feelings trumped reason: Riley had feeling that a radar blip was an Iraqi missile when there was not a logical way to differentiate it from a US plane. His intuition had been refined after looking at radar regularly.
Sometimes thinking too much causes us to override feelings and make bad decisions. When asked to rate good tasting jam people made better choices when they rated it without analyzing it.
People who are more rational don’t perceive emotion less, they regulate it better.
When people were given the price of wine they correlated their ratings with price even when the high prices were put on cheap wines.
Psychopaths are very reasonable but have no feelings. Similarly, autistic people don’t regulate interactions based on feelings and lack ability to empathize with others.
He cited the Stanford Marshmallow experiment with 4 year olds. The marshmallow test was a better predictor of SAT results than IQ tests. The kids who could regulate their emotions by distracting them selves (e.g. closing eyes) were successful.
Partisans self censure data and conform it to their own beliefs. Given large inconsistencies, democrats and republicans both explain it away of their fellow party members and highlight it in the other party.
Political commentators’ accuracy in predicting outcomes is lower than the average persons and inversely correlated to their confidence level. Hubris is our vice.
Lincoln’s ability to tolerate dissent was an enormous asset.
Routines element decision making and increase ability to focus on bigger decisions.
When you are certain you are right you stop listening to those brain areas that say you might be wrong.
Success: entertain competing hypotheses, remind yourself of what you don’t know, turn mistakes into educational events.
CRM (cockpit resource management) is example of a group being more effective than an individual in decision making.

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