Each of us continues to evolve as a person, not just because of our genetic make-up, but also because of the decisions we have made and will continue to make throughout life. Understanding how we make decisions and working at making better decisions is the theme of Jonah Lehrer's book, How We Decide.
In this book Jonah Lehrer summarizes the latest neuroscience research on what happens within a person's brain when making decisions. The author uses real-life stories and research studies to illustrate how the brain works when making decisions. For anyone intrigued with the science of what happens within the brain when decisions are made, this book is well-researched, informatively insightful and will be easily understood by those with a limited knowledge-base in the area of neuroscience.
Many decisions are made based on our emotions and feelings which are a result of cumulative life experiences. A person's emotional brain is able to quickly amass all information within the brain to give a person a gut feeling, an instinct, when solving some types of problems. The more experiences a person has had in particular areas, the more a person can depend on the emotional brain to make a decision. "… Intelligent institution is the result of deliberate practice."
Some situational problems require focused attention and analysis. Therefore, it is important to realize the type of decision that needs to be made and the thinking that may need to take place.
Many people are uncomfortable with uncertainty when making particular decisions and often times that uncertainty may lead to ignoring bits of information. At such times people often do not think through to analyze contradictory information. The brain desires to experience pleasant and pleasing emotions but that can easily lead to people minimizing or dismissing evidence that contradicts their beliefs.
As the author states, "We always need to be thinking about how we think. Sometimes we need to reason through our options and carefully analyze the possibilities. And sometimes we need to listen to our emotions. The secret is knowing when to use these different styles of thought. " Focusing attention, analyzing and learning from the mistakes of what we experience leads to readjustments in thinking. We become better at something and also reap the benefit of becoming better decision makers. "… self-criticism is the secret to self-improvement."
The ability to use emotions and focused analysis in the right situations results in a person who continually thinks about how to think. That becomes the key to becoming better decision-making. As the author states, "This is the most astonishing thing about the human brain; it can always improve itself. Tomorrow, we can make better decisions." To understand how our brain makes decisions is to not only better understand ourselves, but it also enables us to better understand our fellow human beings.
How We Decide … an interesting and enlightening read.
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, who also wrote Proust Was a Neuroscientist.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company New York, New York, 2009, 302 pages.