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How We Decide

Jonah Lehrer

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The quarterback in Am football has to assess a huge number of variables in a split second - the position of attackers, defenders, and potential receivers, all of whom are in motion. The best - the Joe Montanas and John Elways - make correct decisions, literally w/o thinking. No time for rational thought.

We used to believe that the frontal cortex, the bit of the brain that distinguishes us from other apes, was the basis of our rational thinking. But it turns out that a signif part is involved with emotions. Guy named Antonio Domasio had a small tumour cut out of his brain. IQ stayed the same , but he cd not make the slightest decision. Tests found he had no emotional response to anything, no matter how gruesome.

We can't make a choice w/o knowing how we feel about the options. Feelings are what lets us understand all the info we can't directly comprehend.

Practice is what makes perfect, but it has to be a specific type of practice - one which focuses on correcting errors.

An expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.

Crucial part of education is learning from mistakes. So if praise soemone for being smart, they think mistakes are dumb, rather than as building blocks for success.

Basketballers believe in 'hot' streaks, but it turns out to be a commplete fallacy. In fact harmful, bc team told to pass to the guy having a 'hot' run, who then feels he can take riskier shots. What actually, statistically, happens, is that performance declines after series of successful shots.

When stock markets going up, people dip toes in water - invest 10% of their cash. But when those shares go up, regret that not fully vested ("cd have made 10x profit"). So then shove all their money in, usually just as market tanks.

We'll drive across town to save $5 on a $15 calculator, but not to save $5 on a $125 jacket. The same $5 seems irrelevant on a larger purchase. This is why car dealers can get us to tack on over-priced extras. Bc they are only small parts of much bigger purchases, we end up paying for things we wouldn't ordinarily buy.

Anchoring: Students asked to 'bid' on bottles of wine, but first they had to write down the last 2 digits of their SS number. The ones with highest numbers (80 - 99) made an average bid of $56. The ones with the lowest numbers (01 -20) bid just $16.

Our 'rational' brain is not good at disregarding facts, even when it knows the facts are irrelevant. In this case, the SS numbers are clogging up valuable cognitive space, and so becomes a starting point for financial decision.

More books on Politics

Partisan voters, when confronted by negative info about their favorite candidate, search their brain for a way to interpret info in a favourable way. The, having done that, they get a rush of pleasurable emotion. Self-delusion feels good.

Voters will tell you they're thinking, but what they are really doing is rearranging or ignoring facts so that they can rationalize decisions they've alread made.

Philip Tetlock's 1984 study where he got 284 professional advisors (people who made their living commenting or advising on political and economic trends).Gave them a long list of questions would George Bush be re-elected? wd apartheid end peacefully in S Africa? Wd Quebec secede from Canada? Every Q had 3 possible answers. On average, the pundits were right less than 1/3 of the time. ie a dart throwing chimp would have beaten most of the pros. And, in fact, the most famous pundits had the worst record.

And, the more certain they were, the less likely they were to be correct.

Foxes and hedgehogs. The hedgehog sees things from perspective of his personal philosophy - how the world works, or shd work. This big idea is irrefutable, so anything that questions it has to be ignored. And certainty is best way to do that. Foxes are more introspective - skeptical of big unifying ideas, and willing to scrutinise own thinking when grappling with contradictory ideas.

The only way to win at poker is to make better decisions than everybody else at the table. But of course, when you lose, it's always bc of bad luck.

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