How We Decide

Jonah Lehrer, Author . Houghton Mifflin $25 (302p) ISBN 978-0-618-62011-1

What is going on in the brain of a pilot deciding how to handle an emergency or a man trying to escape a wildfire? Does reason or emotion rule our decision making? Seed magazine editor-at-large Lehrer (Proust Was a Neuroscientist ) brings recent research in neurobiology to life as he shows that the view, dating back to Plato, of the decision-making brain as a charioteer (reason) trying to control wild horses (emotions) comes up short. As Lehrer describes in fluid prose, the brain's reasoning centers are easily fooled, often making judgments based on nonrational factors like presentation (a sales pitch or packaging). And Lehrer cites a study of investors given varying amounts of financial data to show that our inner charioteer also can be confused by too much information. Even more surprisingly, research shows that “gut instinct” often does make better decisions than long, drawn-out reasoning, and people with impaired emotional responses have trouble coping with the decisions required in everyday life. Lehrer is a delight to read, and this is a fascinating book (some of which appeared recently, in a slightly different form, in the New Yorker ) that will help everyone better understand themselves and their decision making. (Feb. 9)

Reviewed on: 11/24/2008
Release date: 02/01/2009
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