Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Hidden Brain

The Washington Post published a review by Peter Kramer of The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by WP reporter Shankar Vedantam. I quote:
This clever unconscious (of Freud and the early psychoanalysts) has fallen on hard times. While contemporary research finds that mental processes occurring outside awareness shape our decisions, the unconscious revealed in those studies is stodgy. It uses simple mechanisms to warn us of risks and opportunities -- and often it is simply wrong.

In "The Hidden Brain," Vedantam reviews this new science and applies it speculatively to practical circumstances in which our subconscious leanings might mislead us. How investors choose stocks, how soldiers obey leaders in battle, how spouses respond in arguments -- these consequential behaviors can be shaped by automatic mental routines that preempt our reason. But Vedantam's greatest interest is in the influence of unexamined thought on politics, and it is here that he makes his most dramatic claims.
Comment: I have enjoyed the columns published occasionally in the WP by Vedantam, and indeed have sometimes posted quotations and comments on those columns as part of the effort in this blog to point out that we think with our (evolved) brains and not with out (supposedly rational) minds, and our decisions are often biased in ways we do not recognize.

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