How We Decide

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The science of how we decide is more complex than you might imagine.

If you’re like my husband, then decision-making involves a careful review of all available options, a search of customer reviews, some meditation, a test drive, and a visit to the local shaman. Then you will come to the conclusion that maybe you didn’t need it after all.

But if you’re like me, decision-making means jumping on Overstock.com for a five-minute scroll through items that sort of seem like maybe they were the ones you were thinking of, and a hasty purchase before running off to … I don’t know, shower or something.

My hubby and I illustrate perfectly conventional thinking about decisions: that they are either rational or emotional. But this isn’t necessarily true, and the real processes behind decision-making are the basis of Jonah Lehrer’s new book, aptly named How We Decide. In it, he takes a look at what’s going on in the brain when we choose an ice cream flavor, buy a house, or pick a stock.

As it turns out, “rational” people like my husband still use emotion, and “emotional” people like myself still employ reason. The brain balances both, often without us realizing it.

The most interesting thing about this is that although it is a misconception that there are rational and emotional deciders, it is not a misconception that deciding something on the basis of one or the other is a good idea. The trick is to figure out which approach to employ when.

So the next time you head to the grocery store for peanut butter or jump on Amazon for whatever item you think will fix your latest first-world problem, keep this stuff in mind. Oh, and it’s worth noting that my husband and I are equally likely to be happy with our purchases.

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