On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits (Review)

Book cover for "On Second Thought" by Wray Herbert.Title: On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits

Author: Wray Herbert

Narrator: Dan John Miller

Publication Year: 2010

Pages: 304 (audio length: 3 hours 35 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

Our brains are marvels, hard-wired by millions of years of evolution to boast a number of mental shortcuts, biases, and tricks that allow us to negotiate our complicated lives without overthinking every choice and decision we have to make. Unfortunately, those ancient shortcuts don’t always work to our advantage in our modern lives – when we don’t also think slowly and rationally, those hard-wired habits can trip us up. This intriguing book helps us to understand how our minds are predisposed to think about the world – and how to avoid many of life’s common mistakes. Among the surprising examples of these mental habits at work in our lives:

  • Experienced skiers make fatal mistakes on familiar terrain more often than less experienced ones.
  • 99.9 percent of the citizens of France are registered organ donors, but only 28 percent of Americans are.
  • Early birds on jury duty are more likely to succumb to racial stereotypes in delivering verdicts when the day gets late.
  • People who are hungry for lunch will donate less money to charity.

Wray Herbert introduces us to 20 of these shortcuts and biases, explaining how they affect us in the real world and how they’re being studied in labs around the world.

What I really enjoyed about On Second Thought was the way Herbert turned the research into something that the average reader could understand. I’m not very likely to go looking through the literature about current psychological research – and I might not understand it all even if I did – but this book did a great job of making the information accessible to laymen. Some of the hard-wired habits that he discussed were things that we somehow innately know – like that most people will go with the presumed option if you ask them to opt in or out of something – but some of them were completely unexpected (or at least things that I never would have connected on my own).

I would have liked, though, for the book to go into more detail about how we can avoid following through on these hard-wired habits, particularly for things that affect us in everyday life. Having said that, I’m fairly sure that I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to slow my thought process down when making important decisions since reading this book. I’m definitely still not giving more thought to a lot of things that are hard-wired routines … but baby steps, right?


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