On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-wired Habits

Paperback | September 6, 2011

byWray Herbert

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Our lives are composed of millions of choices, ranging from trivial to life-changing and momentous. Luckily, our brains have evolved a number of mental shortcuts, biases, and tricks that allow us to quickly negotiate this endless array of decisions. We don’t want to rationally deliberate every choice we make, and thanks to these cognitive rules of thumb, we don’t need to. 
Yet these hard-wired shortcuts, mental wonders though they may be, can also be perilous.   They can distort our thinking in ways that are often invisible to us, leading us to make poor decisions, to be easy targets for manipulators…and they can even cost us our lives. 
The truth is, despite all the buzz about the power of gut-instinct decision-making in recent years, sometimes it’s better to stop and say, “On second thought . . .”  
The trick, of course, lies in knowing when to trust that instant response, and when to question it.  In On Second Thought, acclaimed science writer Wray Herbert provides the first guide to achieving that balance.  Drawing on real-world examples and cutting-edge research, he takes us on a fascinating, wide-ranging journey through our innate cognitive traps and tools, exposing the hidden dangers lurking in familiarity and consistency; the obstacles that keep us from accurately evaluating risk and value; the delusions that make it hard for us to accurately predict the future; the perils of the human yearning for order and simplicity; the ways our fears can color our very perceptions . . . and much more. 
Along the way, Herbert reveals the often-bizarre cross-connections these shortcuts have secretly ingrained in our brains, answering such questions as why jury decisions may be shaped by our ancient need for cleanliness; what the state of your desk has to do with your political preferences; why loneliness can literally make us shiver; how drawing two dots on a piece of paper can desensitize us to violence… and how the very typeface on this page is affecting your decision about whether or not to buy this book.   
Ultimately, On Second Thought is both a captivating exploration of the workings of the mind and an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn how to make smarter, better judgments every day. 

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Our lives are composed of millions of choices, ranging from trivial to life-changing and momentous. Luckily, our brains have evolved a number of mental shortcuts, biases, and tricks that allow us to quickly negotiate this endless array of decisions. We don’t want to rationally deliberate every choice we make, and thanks to these cognit...

WRAY HERBERT has been writing about psychology and human behavior for more than 25 years, including regular columns for Newsweek and Scientific American Mind.  He has also been science and health editor at US News & World Report, psychology editor for Science News, and editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. He currently serves as directo...

other books by Wray Herbert

Format:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 7.99 × 5.19 × 0.6 inPublished:September 6, 2011Publisher:Crown/ArchetypeLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0307461645

ISBN - 13:9780307461643

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Introduction On February 12, 1995, a party of three seasoned backcountry skiers set out for a day on the pristine slopes of Utah’s WasatchMountain Range. Steve Carruthers, thirty-seven years old, was themost experienced of the group, though they were all skilled skiersand mountaineers. Carruthers had skied these hills many times andwas intimately familiar with the terrain. Their plan was to trek overthe divide from Big Cottonwood Canyon to Porter Fork, the nextcanyon to the north. Two hours out, they met another skiing party. A storm haddropped almost two feet of new snow on the range the day before,and the two groups stood together for about five minutes, chattingabout the best routes through the mountains. A couple of skiers inthe other party were a bit spooked by the foggy conditions, but theyall decided that they would be okay if they chose a prudent route across the lower slopes. Carruthers’ party broke trail through the sparse woods of Gobbler’s Knob. Within the hour, Carruthers was dead. As the skiers headedacross a shallow, treed expanse, they triggered an avalanche. Morethan a hundred metric tons of snow roared down the mountainsideat fifty miles an hour, blanketing the slope and pinning Carruthersagainst an aspen. The other party heard the avalanche and rushed tothe rescue, but by the time they dug Carruthers out, he was unconscious.He never regained awareness. The other two skiers in Carruthers’ group survived, but theyfaced some serious criticism back home. What were they thinking?This pass was well known as avalanche terrain, and February wasconsidered high hazard season. The chatter in the tight-knit skiingcommunity was that Carruthers had been reckless, that despite hisexperience he had ignored obvious signs of danger and tempted fate. None of this rang true to Ian McCammon. McCammon hadknown Carruthers for years, and the two had been climbing buddiesat one time. Sure, Carruthers may have been a risk taker when hewas younger, but he had matured. Just recently, while the two menwere riding a local ski lift together, Carruthers had talked adoringlyabout his lovely wife, Nancy, and his four-year-old daughter, Lucia.His days of derring-do were over, he had told McCammon. It wastime to settle down. So what happened on that fateful afternoon? What skewed thisexperienced backcountry skier’s judgment that he would put himselfand his party in harm’s way? Did he perish in an avoidable accident?Saddened and perplexed by his friend’s death, McCammon determinedto figure out what went wrong. McCammon is an experienced backcountry skier in his ownright, and a wilderness instructor, but he is also a scientist. He has aPh.D. in mechanical engineering, and as a researcher at the Universityof Utah, he once worked on robotics and aerospace systems for  NASA and the Defense Department. He already knew snow sciencepretty well, so he began reading everything he could on the science ofrisk and decision making. He ended up studying the details of morethan seven hundred deadly avalanches that took place between 1972and 2003, to see if he could find any commonalities that might explainhis friend’s untimely death. With the rigor of an engineer, he systematically categorized allthe avalanches according to several factors well known to backcountryskiers as risks: recent snowfall or windstorm, terrain features likecliffs and gullies, thawing and other signs of instability, and so forth.He computed an “exposure score” to rate the risk that preceded everyaccident. Then he gathered as much information as he could on the ill-fatedskiers themselves, all 1,355 of them: the makeup and dynamics of theskiing party, the expertise of the group leader as well as the others,plus anything that was known about the hours and minutes leadingup to the fatal moment. Then he crunched all the data together. His published results were intriguing. He found many patternsin the accidents, including several poor choices that should not havebeen made by experienced skiers. He concluded that these foolish decisionscould be explained by six common thinking lapses, and hewrote up the work in a paper titled “Evidence of Heuristic Traps inRecreational Avalanche Accidents.” The paper has become a staple ofmodern backcountry training and has no doubt saved many lives. Heuristics are cognitive rules of thumb, hard-wired mentalShortcuts that everyone uses every day in routine decision makingand judgment. The study of heuristics is one of the most robust areasof scientific research today, producing hundreds of academic articlesa year, yet the concept is little known outside the labs and offices ofacademia. This book is an attempt to remedy that. Heuristics are normally helpful—indeed, they are crucial togetting through the myriad of decisions we face every day withoutoverthinking every choice. But they’re imperfect and often irrational.They can be traps, as they were in the frozen mountain pass whereCarruthers perished. Much has been written in the past couple ofyears about the wonders of the rapid, automatic human mind andgut-level decision making. And indeed the unconscious mind is awonder. But it is also perilous. The shortcuts that allow us to navigateeach day with ease are the same ones that can potentially tripus up in our ordinary judgments and choices, in everything fromhealth to finance to romance. Most of us are not backcountry skiers, and we will probablynever face the exact choices that Carruthers and his friends faced atGobbler’s Knob. But just because the traps are not life threateningdoes not mean they aren’t life changing. Here are a few of the heuristicsthat shaped the backcountry skiers’ poor choices—and may beshaping yours in ways you don’t even recognize. Consider the “familiarity heuristic.” This is one of the cognitiveshortcuts that McCammon identified as a contributing factor inmany of the avalanche incidents he studied. The familiarity heuristicis one of the most robust heuristics known, and indeed one ofthe original heuristics identified and studied by pioneers in cognitivescience. It is a potent mental tool that we draw on every day forhundreds of decisions, and basically what it says is this: if somethingcomes quickly to mind, trust it. It must be available in your memoryfor a reason, so go with it. The basic rule of thumb is that familiarequals better equals safer. That’s a very useful rule for, say, grocery shopping. There arepotentially thousands and thousands of choices that must be madeevery time you enter your local supermarket. But what if you actuallyhad to make every one of those judgments, comparing every kind ofyogurt and every couscous brand before making a selection? You’dbe paralyzed. So instead you spot the brand of yogurt or couscousyou’ve bought dozens of times before; you grab it, you pay for it, andyou’re out of there. No need to study every item on the shelf. It’s alsoa useful rule for ER physicians, airline pilots, and soccer players—people who have to make rapid-fire decisions and are trained toquickly identify familiar patterns and react. Heuristics are amazing time savers, which makes them essentialto our busy lives. Many, like the familiarity heuristic, are an amalgamof habit and experience. We don’t want to deliberate every minorchoice we make every day, and we don’t need to. But there are alwaysrisks when we stop deliberating. McCammon’s avalanche victims, forexample, were almost all experienced backcountry skiers, and indeedalmost half had had some formal training in avalanche awareness.This expertise didn’t guarantee that they would make the smartestchoices. Paradoxically, their expertise may have hurt them. They wereso familiar with the terrain that it seemed safe—simply because it alwayshad been safe before. It was familiar, and thus unthreatening.The skiers let down their guard because they all remembered successfuloutings that looked pretty much the same as the treacherousone. In fact, McCammon found in his research that there were significantlymore avalanche accidents when the skiers knew the specificlocale, compared to ski parties exploring novel terrain. Most of the avalanches in our modern lives have nothing to dowith snow. The familiarity heuristic (including the related fluencyheuristic, discussed in Chapter 4) has been widely studied in the areaof consumer choice and personal finance—and not just how we buygroceries. Princeton psychologists have shown that people are moreapt to buy shares in new companies if the names of the companiesare easy to read and say, which actually affects the performance ofthe stock in the short run. University of Michigan psychologists haveshown that language (and even the typeface in which something isprinted) can affect all sorts of perceptions: whether a roller coasterseems too risky or a job seems too demanding to take on. Evenvery subtle manipulations of cognitive familiarity are shaping yourchoices, big and small, every day. So familiarity and comfort can be traps. But the fact is, Carruthers’decision making really started to go wrong long before heeven started waxing his skis. It started back in the warmth of theliving room, when he or one of his buddies said, “Hey, let’s take arun out to Gobbler’s Knob tomorrow.” At that point, they triggeredanother powerful cognitive tool, known as the “default heuristic” or“consistency heuristic.” At that point, with their adventure still an abstractnotion, they no doubt discussed the conditions, the pros andcons, and made a deliberate assessment of the risks of going out. Butonce they made that initial decision, the cold calculation stopped.They made a mental commitment, and that thought took on power. We have a powerful bias for sticking with what we already have,not switching course. Unless there is some compelling reason not to,we let our minds default to what’s given or what has already beendecided. We rely on stay-the-course impulses all the time, often withgood results. Constant switching can be perilous, in everything fromfinancial matters to romantic judgments, so we have become averseto hopping around. But this powerful urge for steadiness can also lock us into a badchoice. Just imagine Carruthers’ ski party standing out there on theslope, chatting with the members of the other ski party. At this point,they could have made the decision to turn around and go home. Perhapsthe snowpack seemed too unstable, or a certain gully lookedworrisome. The skiers were no doubt taking in all this information,but they were not deliberating the pros and cons with their full mentalpowers because they had really already made their choice. Theheuristic mind doesn’t like to second-guess itself once it has momentum,and these skiers already had two hours of trekking invested inthis decision. It would have taken a lot of mental effort to process allthe logical arguments for turning around and going home. So they didn’t. They stuck to their plan because they were cognitivelybiased toward going ahead rather than switching gears. Theywere stubborn, but not in the way we commonly use the word tomean an obstinate attitude. Their brains were being stubborn, in themost fundamental way, right down in the neurons. We default hundredsof times a day, simply because it’s effortful to switch plans. Westay in relationships that are going nowhere simply because it’s easierthan getting out. We buy the same brand of car our father did andhesitate to rearrange our stock portfolio. And we uncritically defer toothers who make decisions for us—policy makers, who make rulesand laws based on the assumption that we will act consistently ratherthan question. Similarly, it’s safer to need an organ transplant in Paristhan in New York City. You’ll find out why in Chapter 20, but theshort answer is that it’s the default heuristic at work. There were other heuristics reinforcing the ill-fated skiers’ commitment.They probably got some additional mental nudging fromwhat McCammon calls the “acceptance heuristic.” Also known asthe “mimicry heuristic,” it is basically the strong tendency to makechoices that we believe will get us noticed—and more important,approved—by others. It’s deep-wired, likely derived from our ancientneed for belonging and safety. It can be seen in the satisfaction we getfrom clubs and other social rituals, like precision military formationsand choral singing. It’s a crucial element in group cohesion, but weoften apply it in social situations where it’s inappropriate—or evenharmful, as it was in many of the accidents that McCammon studied.His analysis showed a much higher rate of risky decision making ingroups of six or more skiers, where there was a larger “audience” toplease. Then the snow itself can make skiers do senseless things. Everyskier knows the phrase “powder fever,” which means the unreasonabledesire to put down the first tracks in freshly fallen snow. Powderfever begins with the first flakes of a long-awaited snowstorm andpeaks as soon as conditions permit the first treks out. The virginpowder won’t last long; everyone knows that. So for a few hours it’slike gold, valuable simply because of its scarcity. Psychologists think this “scarcity heuristic” derives from our fundamentalneed for personal freedom. We have a visceral reaction toany restriction on our prerogatives as individuals, and one way thismanifests itself is in distorted notions about scarcity and value. Humanshave made gold valuable because there is not all that much of itto go around, not because it’s a particularly useful metal. So it is withnew powder, and so it is with anything else we might perceive as rare,from land to free time. Scarcity can even skew our choices of loversand partners, if we’re not careful. These are just a few of the heuristics you will learn about in thechapters ahead. This book is not intended to be exhaustive. Some psychologistsestimate that there are hundreds of powerful heuristics atwork in the human brain, some working in tandem with others, sometimesreinforcing and sometimes undermining one another. As readerswill see in the chapters ahead, aspects of the arithmetic heuristicoverlap with the futuristic heuristic; the cooties heuristic sometimesresembles certain visceral heuristics; and so forth. The intertwining ofthese powerful impulses in the mind is in fact very messy, and thesetidy chapters are meant as guideposts through the messiness. So where do these potent heuristics come from? And why, if theycan be so troublesome, are they seemingly universal? Presumably thesecognitive shortcuts are deep-wired into our basic neurology, althoughtheir locations in the brain are as yet unknown. What is known is thateons ago, when humans were evolving on the savannas of easternAfrica, the brain was going through all sorts of changes to help thespecies adapt to a shifting environment. Because that world was so fullof risks, the primitive brain wired itself for action, including the abilityto make very rapid choices and judgments. Many of these powerful,evolved tendencies remain in the modern mind as heuristics. Theyremain as potent as ever, though many are no longer adaptive to ourcurrent way of life—and lead to faulty thinking.Here’s an example of a powerful heuristic with evolutionary roots.I have a young friend who recently applied to medical school. He reallywanted to go to a particular school in Chicago, for a variety of reasons,both academic and personal. But knowing that this school wasone of the most competitive med schools in the country, he applied tosix schools. They were all excellent schools, but he had a clear favorite. He got accepted to his number one pick. But, surprisingly, hewas rejected by all of the others. How did he feel? Well, logically, heshould feel deliriously happy. He just got into one of the top-notchmed schools in the nation; more important, it was the very one hewanted most. The rejections should be totally irrelevant to him at thispoint. But he wasn’t deliriously happy. He was disappointed and hurt.Even though he knew the rejections were meaningless, even thoughhis reasonable mind wanted to focus on his success and celebrate, hecouldn’t shake the feelings of disappointment and resentment. Psychologists talk about our negativity bias, which is another perilousform of heuristic thinking. Over eons of human evolution, weas a species learned to focus on the negative, because if we didn’t, wedied. It was essential to stay alert to the dangers and threats in ourworld—predators, poisons, competitors in the tribe. This tendencybecame deeply ingrained in our psyche, where it remains. But negativityisn’t always effective in our lives today—at least not in the lifesavingmanner it once was. Indeed, the opposite is often true. We oftenget hung up on meaningless negative events and details of life, andthat distracts us from the real business of life, including being happy. So some heuristics are the legacy from our ancient past. Othersare products of our culture, which get passed on, learned andrelearned from generation to generation. Others are rooted in ourearliest experiences—the fears and needs of infancy—but shape ourthinking as adults. Consider the visceral heuristic that links the physicalsensation of cold and the emotion called loneliness. Infants comeinto the world with very primitive needs and desires. They seek comfortand safety. These needs become a basic, internal “idea,” a kindof heuristic foundation onto which others are added with time andexperience. Psychologists call this “cognitive scaffolding.” We layer morecomplex social behavior and thought on top of the more primitivesystems the body already has in place for survival. So, for example,the infant who seeks comfort from the cold, clinging to its mother’sbody for warmth, gradually comes to associate cold with being alone,exposed, lacking support—in short, with loneliness. Eventually theconcepts of cold and loneliness are so tightly entwined that the bodyand mind no longer distinguish the two kinds of experience.You’ll read more about visceral heuristics and scaffolding inChapter 1. Many of these basic bodily heuristics are so powerful thatthey get embodied in the metaphors of our poetry and passed on inmaxims, slogans, and fables. Recall the consistency heuristic that putthe backcountry skiers in harm’s way. Strip away the academic jargonand it might be phrased: “Don’t change horses in midstream.” Thispowerful bias probably emerged because it was cognitively easier andless risky to stay the course, but today it’s universal and pervasive inour lives. So are heuristics a good thing or a bad thing? There is an energeticdebate going on right now within the halls of academe on justthis question. One camp argues that heuristics are the best tools inour cognitive toolbox for many complex life decisions, precisely becausethey are so fleet and efficient. According to this view, it is simplyimpossible to calculate the best answers all the time, to use what’scalled “balance sheet reasoning” with columns of plusses and minuses totaling up. The opposing camp views heuristics as traps andbiases, outdated and maladaptive rules that cause bad choices moreoften than not in the modern world. This book will not resolve that academic dispute. Instead itstakes out a middle ground that other academic psychologists call“ecological rationality,” which simply translates this way: Heuristicsare neither good nor bad all the time. What’s good or bad is the fit.Sometimes life demands heuristic thinking, and other times it canbe perilous. The trick of modern living is in knowing what kind ofthinking best matches the challenge at hand. It’s all about getting thebalance right, and this book is a guide to achieving that balance. Heuristics are one of the major ideas to come out of cognitive psychologyin the past decades, and the idea goes hand in hand with another:the dual-processor brain. This is not the split brain you learnedabout in high school, with its left and right hemispheres dedicated todifferent tasks. The exact anatomy of the dual-processor brain is stillbeing worked out, and won’t be discussed much in this book. What’simportant to know is that the human mind has two very differentoperating systems. One is logical, slow, deliberate, effortful, and cautious.The other—much older and more primitive—is fast and impressionistic,sometimes irrational. That’s the heuristic mind. We constantly switch back and forth between rational thoughtand rash judgment. Sometimes we have no control over our thinking.If we are overtired, mentally depleted, our brain switches automaticallyto its less effortful mode; it’s just too difficult to crunch a lotof information and sort it intelligently if we—literally—lack the fuelfor thinking. We also default to our heuristic brain if we are understress or time pressure, or if we are trying to do too many things atone time. Indeed, multitasking is the perfect example of our braintoggling between rash and rational—and our tendency to make mistakesas we multitask is a good illustration of our limits in doing so.Here is a metaphor that captures both the virtues and the imperfectionof heuristic thinking: packing the car trunk for a summerbeach vacation. You know how much stuff you need for thebeach: folding metal chairs, umbrellas, balls, and plastic buckets. Andit’s not like packing a rectangular box full of rectangular objects, likebooks. Beach things are irregular and the trunk itself is curved andoddly configured. So how do you pack it the best way? What’s the optimalstrategy? Most people will rely on heuristic thinking. The word heuristic comes from philosophy by way of computerscience. It’s based on the Greek verb that means “to find.” Computerscientists realized early on that some problems are too complex evenfor high-powered computers. These problems might have perfect solutions,but the computers would have to crunch away for weeks ormonths or years to figure them out. Consequently, computer scientistsused shortcut algorithms that produce good-enough solutionsin a reasonable time. As with those computer programs, our naturalheuristics offer us a trade-off: we accept some imperfection in ourdecisions for the practicality of getting the job done. So there are many, many ways to pack that car trunk, andsome people will spend a lot of time trying to arrive at the optimalmethod. They’ll spread everything on the lawn, then start methodicallyarranging the contents, large items first, filling in the nooks withsmaller pieces. The solution will never be perfect: those folding chairswill always be an annoyance to these people. Psychologists call these people “optimizers.” The world is dividedinto optimizers and the rest of us—whom psychologists call “satisficers.”Satisficing is just a Scottish colloquialism for satisfying, butit has that added sense of “good enough,” as in satisfying enough tosuffice. Satisficers (and I count myself here) can’t be bothered withoptimal solutions; they’re way too difficult and time-consuming. Youcan’t simply toss the beach stuff in capriciously, because it won’t fitthat way. But you don’t fuss either, because once you slam that trunkclosed and start driving, you won’t even see it. Obviously there are times when optimizing is essential. If you aredesigning a skyscraper and need to know precisely how much weighta beam will carry, you can’t settle for a good-enough answer. But formany of life’s problems, satisficing does fine. The trick is in knowingwhen to be deliberate and calculating and when to choose speed overperfection. It’s all in the fit. Think about the simple act of driving a car. I live in a big city,and I have lived here for a long time, so I know my way around. As aresult, I don’t have to plot out my routes to most familiar places, andI don’t need maps. I simply start up the engine; then I arrive at mydestination. I have little or no recollection of making any deliberatechoices in between. I didn’t have to think about turning right here,negotiating a traffic circle, using my indicator light, shifting gears,braking. I may even have switched radio stations and carried on aconversation during the drive. It was all automatic and unconscious. That’s good. More than good—absolutely necessary. What a draglife would be if you had to think about every minor step in drivingyour car to the grocery store. But what if a four-year-old child dartsout into traffic, right in front of the car? If I’m lucky, I switch instantaneouslyback to the here and now. I am fully alert, and my focused,attentive mind trumps all those heuristic processes that add up towhat we call cruise control. This is the brain toggling, but it’s more ofa jolt than a toggle. It’s an emergency brain switch, and people whohave experienced such incidents report having a flood of memories,many totally irrelevant. That’s because when we’re on automatic, wedisengage not only our attention but our memory and just cruise.The sudden reengagement of those conscious processes floods thebrain with detail—the stuff of focused decisions. Now think of another kind of driving that’s a completely differentcognitive experience: snow driving. I learned to drive in northeasternPennsylvania, where driving implicitly acknowledges the dual-processorbrain. Learning to handle a car is a two-step ordeal in thatregion. In the late spring or summer, when the weather is fair, youlearn to drive the usual way, steering and braking and working theclutch and gears and so forth. Then, when winter sets in, you learnsnow driving. The state gives you a license for learning the regularstuff, but being a skillful snow driver carries infinitely more weightin the community: being unable to handle yourself and your car innasty weather is a moral failure. I learned the fundamentals of snow driving in the parking lot ofthe Acme supermarket on a cold Sunday. My father took me thereafter three or four inches of snow had fallen, when the macadam surfacewas slick, and told me to drive recklessly: accelerate and brakehard, make sharp turns, left then right. It was all to get the feel for acar on snow, sliding and correcting, sliding again. “What you’ve gotto learn,” he said, “is to turn into the skid.” I did learn it, but it’s not intuitive. When your back wheels hit aslick patch and skid—to the right, let’s say—most people’s gut reactionis to correct by turning hard left, away from the skid. It’s wiredinto our neurons, and we do it automatically, without thinking—heuristically. But it’s wrong. Doing that just makes the skid worse. Asmy father said, you need to turn into the skid, which means turningright when it feels wrong. Turning into the skid means trumping our heuristic impulses.Inept snow driving can land you in the body shop, or worse. Butmany of our everyday decisions and choices and judgments haveprofound and lasting consequences. This book is about defusing ourmisguided heuristic impulses, and in that sense it’s a how-to book.The best way to rein in bad thinking is to recognize it, because oncewe recognize faulty thinking, we are capable of talking ourselves intobetter thinking. We have the power to engage the more deliberate andeffortful part of our brain, and that process starts with understandingthe heuristic brain in action. Let’s begin. From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

"Eminently "Gladwellian"...Herbert clearly shows the effects of various daily mental maneuvers and peppers the text with explanations of how the human mind has evolved." —Washington Post  "Brings a twist [to the psychology shelf]...could keep us from making mistakes whose consequences range from dying in an avalanche to failing to follow directions because we don't like the font they're written in." —Sharon Begley, Newsweek "Think twice before you trust your gut...Herbert uses real-world examples and cutting-edge research to show how heuristics--hardwired mental shortcuts we think of as intuition--can both help and hinder the decisions we make every day." —US News & World Report “Counters the argument set forth in titles like Malcom Gladwell's Blink… successfully shows readers how ancient shortcuts can impact our modern living and how to use this knowledge to make better decisions.” —Library Journal“Wray Herbert displays his gifts as a science writer par excellence…On Second Thought goes a long way toward leveling the mental playing field by outing the hidden power of our unconscious mental models.” —Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence "There is one way to be rational, and many ways of being irrational. With stories, anecdotes, and studies, Wray Herbert takes us through a guided tour of our many irrational tendencies, holding our hand, and helping us to see the mistakes we all make every day."—Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational  “A wonderful book that should be read by the public and experts alike…the most complete statement currently available on the foibles manifest in everyday decision-making and surely one of the most interesting books that I have had the pleasure of reading." —Ellen Langer, author of Mindfulness “Wray Herbert is one of our finest writers of psychological science…here he blends the most fascinating findings from cognitive psychology with his own experiences into a seamless story of the mental biases and quirks that help us navigate through life—and occasionally get us stuck in brambles. On second thought . . . I’d say the same thing.”—Carol Tavris, coauthor of Mistakes Were Made “A fascinating and important book that reveals the invisible errors we make time and again… don’t tackle any big adventures or major undertakings until you’ve read On Second Thought.  It could save your nest egg, your relationship, and even your life.  No kidding!”—Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big Life“From ‘looming maladaptive style’ to the ‘cooties heuristic,’ Wray Herbert takes us on a journey through the styles of thought we usually take for granted.  In clear and lively prose, he describes psych experiments and real-life quandaries that reveal how our cognitive habits get in our way – or, occasionally, save our skins.  It all adds up to a fascinating book that is altogether a treat. —Robin Marantz Henig, author of Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive RevolutionFrom the Hardcover edition.