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How We Decide

By Jonah Lehrer

How We Decide
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2009,
    256 pages.

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Margaret (01/28/09)

How We Decide
By using psychological and neuroscience studies as well as examples about and interviews with people who make decisions, Mr. Lehrer has produced a fascinating book about how we make our own decisions. The book opens with a pilot steering a plane (actually a simulator) to land after an engine catches fire (so timely with the landing in the Hudson). He also includes a study of the pilot of the plane which landed in Iowa a number of years ago. Although at times the science is a bit deep for the casual reader, all in all it is a very accessible and interesting study. Did you, as a reader, ever know what it takes to decide what strawberry jam to purchase or why a poker player folds or holds? The long bibliography and notes add to his study for the reader wanting more details.
Dolena (01/18/09)

Who knew emotions can be our best guide in decision making?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. With a myriad of examples drawn from all walks of life (the quarterack, the credit counselor, the guy protecting a submarine), author Lehrer challenges our common belief that the best decisions are made devoid of emotion. The author, through real examples applied to extensive scientific research and studies, challenges that notion. By example after example, he counters the belief we can make decisions without our emotions, which he defines in terms of specific portions of the brain and their functions. Again, by example, he cautions that while some of our brain functions, which are tied to our emotions, are our best friends in decision-making, other functions of the brain betray us, leading us to disastrous decisions and judgments. I found his examples relating to why we continuously spend more than we have, individually and collectively, fascinating. Who knew that the human brain played a role in the "sub-prime mortgage crisis!"

This is a book to linger over and ponder. The author has rendered what could have been just "cold" science into an intriguing journey through the human mind and its direct role in all human decisions, good and bad.
Sharon (01/08/09)

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
I found this book very interesting and informative. Lehrer cites scientific experiments which show the part of the brain used when making rational decisions versus emotional decisions as well as the parts affected by dementia, Alzheimer's, autism and trauma, etc. It's written in language that a layperson can understand. I would recommend it for those who want a better understanding of these conditions. We have friends who have autism and dementia in their family. It helped me to better understand the problems that they must face.
Barbara (01/05/09)

Making Decisions - heart or mind?
Emotion or rational thought? This book presents an enthralling explanation of the processes that the brain uses to decide what decisions it will make. Full of stories and anecdotes, it kept this reader’s interest throughout. The chapter on psychopaths and why they are so dangerous is chilling. The book is very current and includes information regarding the 2008 presidential election and how emotion and rational thought played out in the selection of candidates. Even the acknowledgments at the end are fun--the book was written because the author couldn't decide which type of Cheerios to buy!
BethD (01/02/09)

Decide to check out How We Decide!
I loved this book! While getting ready to host a holiday party, in my mad scramble to stow away odds and ends, I misplaced this book. It took me forever to find where I stashed it. To make matters worse, I thought about it all the time in the interim - the ideas and information really stayed with me. I say "to make matters worse", but really, isn't that the hallmark of a good book?

I'm a big fiction reader, not so much of a non-fiction reader, but I requested this book because I have an interest in the brain and its functioning. I've taken a couple of "just for fun" non-credit college classes about the brain, so I was inclined to like the book from the beginning, but I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I don't think readers need to have any particular prior knowledge about the brain, though, because the author does a fantastic job of communicating how the brain processes information in layman's terms. I've always thought of the brain as the last frontier in medicine, but this book really offers an excellent glimpse into something that is still somewhat of a black box.

Two of the most interesting parts of the book occur early on, first when the author discusses how children respond differently depending on whether they're told they're smart or whether they're told they worked hard and second, when the author discusses gambling and Parkinson's medication.

As much as I liked this book, it did take me a while to get through it once I found it again.
Anna (12/31/08)

How We Decide
All in all I liked this book but I do have a couple of criticisms. First of all, the author misused the term "negative reinforcement" -- it does NOT mean the same thing as punishment! The other thing that I found annoying was that he used the terms brain and mind as if they were interchangeable, which they are not. The brain is, of course, an anatomical structure, while "mind" is a convenient construct we use when talking about consciousness. These criticisms aside, I find the author's contention that we need to use both rational thought and emotional reaction when we are making decisions a compelling one. I particularly liked his use of real-life anecdotes to illustrate what might otherwise have been dry, textbook-ish examples.
Nicole (12/27/08)

How We Decide is wonderful...
An engaging and simply written accounting of what happens in our brains when we make decisions. I am not a science buff by any means but I was able to understand and easily follow along with the the way Lehrer broke it down for the reader. Interesting cases studies and anecdotes render an interesting and compelling read.
Peggy (12/22/08)

Thinking about Thinking
If my science class had been as interesting as "How We Decide", I would have been more likely to consider a career as a scientist. The book has a heavyweight bibliography, extensive technical references and descriptions of brain parts that I will hopefully never have to pronounce, but is in no way a tedious read.

The simple message is to think about thinking, and explains why using examples of people who make or have made different types of decisions. We do make many different types of decisions all of the time and use different parts of the brain for these decisions.

I know I will remember the lessons from this book the next time I find myself ready to make an important decision in my life, so that I can better sort out the various voices in my head ... and think about why I am feeling what I am feeling.
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