Read this, make better decisions

When it comes to the big decisions, should you lead with your head (as President-Elect Obama does) or your gut (as President Bush has in the past)? To find out, read Jonah Lehrer’s excellent new book, How We Decide.

Lehrer — the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and a regular contributor to VSL:SCIENCE — has spent the past few years exploring the neural machinery behind our decision-making processes: a network of dopamine-sensitive cells in the brain’s emotional and cognitive centers, which tie feelings and reason together so closely that the two operate almost as one. According to Lehrer, correct decisions require an awareness of both halves of the equation — and a perfect balance of visceral response and cognitive knowledge.

Lehrer’s case studies run the gamut from Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks to marshmallow-eating 4-year-olds. And while there are no hard-and-set rules to follow, the book does provide a short list of decision-making principles: Reason your way through simple problems (boxer shorts, laundry detergent), but let your emotions guide you toward new loves and new houses. Avoid overcertainty. And be sure to examine your past mistakes. After all, our greatest strength lies in a thorough understanding of our weaknesses.

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Read this, make better decisions