Self Help

How We Decide - Jonah Lehrer

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Matheus Puppe

· 47 min read

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Here is a summary of the key points from the introduction of the book “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer:

  • The book examines human decisions by exploring case studies of people in high-stakes decision-making roles like pilots, quarterbacks, directors, investors, etc.

  • For centuries, theorists observed human behavior from the outside to develop decision-making theories, as the mind was inaccessible. They assumed humans are rational - deliberately weighing pros and cons when deciding.

  • The author underwent a simulated emergency flight scenario in a Boeing 737 simulator. He had to quickly decide whether to descend or gain altitude after an engine failure, with potentially fatal consequences.

  • Redoing the scenario showed the single decision made in moments of panic separated a safe landing from a deadly stall and crash. This highlights how thin the line is between good and bad decisions.

  • The book aims to explore what happens inside the brain during decision-making, now that technologies allow more direct examination of the mind. It questions the assumption that humans are purely rational decision-makers.

In summary, the introduction establishes that the book will investigate real-world decision-making and reconsider theories of rationality by looking at the human mind from the perspective of modern brain science.

  • With 1:21 left in the 2002 Super Bowl, the score is tied between the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams. The Patriots have the ball on their 17-yard line with no timeouts.

  • Tom Brady, the Patriots’ backup QB, huddles with coaches Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis. They agree to start driving down the field but run out the clock if anything terrible happens.

  • Brady confidently leads the Patriots to the line of scrimmage despite being a late draft pick and considered too small and fragile. However, Belichick saw Brady’s potential in his decision-making under pressure.

  • Brady calls audibles and shifts, then makes three short, safe passes while reading the Rams’ zone coverage and avoiding sacks. He takes what the defense gives instead of forcing passes. This moves the chains but runs down the clock.

  • The summary focuses on how Brady demonstrates poise and decision-making under immense pressure, trusting his reads of the defense to make safe, strategic throws and move the ball down the field while preserving time.

With 29 seconds left in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots have the ball on the 41-yard line needing to score a touchdown to win the game. Brady and the offense face pressure with only 2-3 plays left to move the ball 30 yards into field goal range.

Brady surveys the defense and sees coverages developing. His primary receivers are covered so he looks elsewhere. Troy Brown finds space between the linebackers and cornerbacks in the middle of the field. Brady fires a pass to Brown who makes the catch in stride and runs for a critical first down, moving the ball into field goal range.

Adam Vinatieri then kicks a 48-yard field goal as time expires to win the Super Bowl for the Patriots in one of the greatest upsets in NFL history. Brady’s clutch decision-making and accuracy under pressure were critical factors in driving the Patriots into position for the game-winning kick.

  • For a long time, decision-making was seen as a battle between rationality and emotion, with rationality usually triumphant. Plato’s metaphor of the charioteer controlling two horses represented reason controlling emotions.

  • This view became widespread in Western thought. Philosophers like Descartes saw the mind divided between a rational soul and emotional body. Freud also portrayed the mind as divided between the rational ego and the emotional id.

  • Cognitive psychology adopted this rational/emotional divide when viewing the mind as an information-processing computer. Emotions were seen as interfering with rational cognition.

  • However, modern neuroscience is discovering that this classical view needs to be corrected. The emotional and rational parts of the brain are much more interconnected than previously believed. Emotions play a more significant role in decision-making than simply interfering with rationality.

So, in summary, the passage traces how decision-making was traditionally seen as rationality overcoming emotion. However, modern neuroscience finds this view too simplistic and identifies a more complex interplay between emotion and rationality in the brain.

The passage discusses Antonio Damasio’s research on a patient named Elliot, with a small tumor removed from his frontal cortex near the prefrontal lobe. After the surgery, Elliot experienced profound changes - he could no longer make decisions effectively in his personal and professional life.

Damasio observed that Elliot seemed detached and lacked emotions when discussing the downward turn his life had taken after the surgery. Tests confirmed Elliot did not experience physiological responses like sweating when shown emotive images. This showed he was devoid of emotions.

Based on Elliot and other similar patients, Damasio hypothesized that emotions play a crucial role in decision making. Without emotions, even basic choices become impossible. The orbitofrontal cortex, located behind the eyes, integrates emotions into the decision making process. Damage to this area can result in an inability to make decisions, as emotions are no longer factored in.

This challenges previous views that rational thinking is separate from and superior to emotions. The passage argues that emotions are integrated into rational thought via connections between the orbitofrontal cortex and more primitive brain areas. Emotions help evaluate options and guide choices. This process is necessary for decisions to become excruciatingly easier.

Soap operas require churning out a large volume of material quickly. New plots, scripts, rehearsals, and meticulous planning are needed before filming just 22 minutes of television over 12 hours, repeated five days a week.

Herb Stein has directed Days of Our Lives for 25 years, shooting over 50,000 scenes and casting hundreds of actors. He has been nominated for 8 Emmys. Throughout his long career, Stein has witnessed more dramatic scenes than anyone.

Stein was inspired to study theater after reading Greek tragedies in college. For soap operas, the key is engaging viewers without them noticing the story being told, even when plots are outrageous. Scenes require split-second directing decisions like camera angles amid tight filming schedules.

Stein relies on instincts refined over decades. During complex scenes, he orchestrates cameras like a conductor. Casting depends on intuiting character fit and “it factor” within seconds. Stein trusts gut feelings even if unexplainable, learned from experience evaluating thousands of actors—his emotional brain processes subtleties to guide decisions faster than conscious thought. Stein’s success demonstrates how emotions can efficiently summarize information to shortcut analysis.

  • The passage describes the first Marine divisions rolling into Kuwait to begin Operation Desert Storm, tasked with liberating Kuwait within 100 hours to avoid lengthy urban warfare.

  • They expected heavy resistance from Iraqi forces fortified near the Kuwaiti border, who had been spared heavy bombing within Kuwait. Estimates projected that each Marine division could suffer 1,000 casualties, 5-10% of troops.

  • Coalition battleships positioned 20 miles off Kuwait provided crucial air cover but were vulnerable to Iraqi missiles. They were on high alert expecting hostile fire as the Marines invaded.

  • In the first 24 hours, the Marine divisions pushed further and faster into Kuwait than expected, facing less resistance than anticipated from Iraqi forces who appeared demoralized and disorganized. Their success in the initial invasion stages exceeded expectations and hopes.

  • US Marines using advanced tanks could penetrate central Kuwait during the Gulf War. Their tanks had thermal sights and GPS, giving them an advantage over Iraqi forces.

  • After reaching the outskirts of Kuwait City, the Marines turned east to secure the coastline. On February 25, ten helicopters and a landing ship launched a feint attack on a port in Kuwait to “neutralize” it and ensure it did not threaten offshore convoys.

  • At the same time, Lieutenant Commander Michael Riley monitored the radar on a British destroyer protecting the Allied fleet. He noticed an unknown radar blip heading straight for the US battleship USS Missouri. He had to decide quickly whether to shoot it down, fearing it could be an incoming missile.

  • Riley faced a dilemma because the blip’s path matched US fighter jets. After investigating, cognitive psychologist Gary Klein later determined that Riley’s unconscious intuition correctly identified the blip as a hostile missile based on subtle differences in its radar appearance compared to fighter jets. Riley’s quick decision saved the battleship by shooting down an Iraqi Silkworm missile.

  • James Olds and Peter Milner accidentally discovered the critical role of dopamine when they implanted an electrode near the nucleus accumbens in rats’ brains. Stimulating this area produced intense pleasure that overwhelmed the rats and killed them.

  • Later research showed this was due to excessive dopamine release. Dopamine helps regulate all emotions and helps with decision making. Too much pleasure can be harmful.

  • Neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz studied dopamine neurons in monkeys’ brains and how they respond during conditioning experiments. Initially the neurons fired when rewards like juice were delivered.

  • After learning that a tone predicted juice, the neurons started firing at the tone instead of the reward. Schultz called these “prediction neurons” as they predicted rewards.

  • If predictions were correct and rewards arrived, dopamine surged producing pleasure. If predictions were wrong and rewards were not received, dopamine levels decreased, producing an upset feeling.

  • The anterior cingulate cortex detects prediction errors when expectations are not met. It alerts consciousness and regulates bodily responses through connections to other brain areas.

  • The ACC helps adjust predictions by remembering lessons from prediction errors. This incorporates past experiences into future decision making.

  • Backgammon is one of the oldest board games dating back to ancient Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago. It has changed little in terms of rules over the centuries.

  • In the 1990s, IBM developed Deep Blue, a powerful AI that could beat chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov through brute computational force, evaluating 200 million moves per second. However, it needed more flexibility and ability to learn from experience.

  • Gerald Tesauro at IBM developed a new type of AI called TD-Gammon to play backgammon. Unlike Deep Blue, it started with no programmed knowledge and learned solely through playing games.

  • TD-Gammon was designed to learn from its wins and losses through temporal difference learning. Over many games, it trained its neural network to get better at evaluating positions and choices.

  • Through experience playing millions of games against itself, TD-Gammon eventually exceeded the skill of the world’s best human backgammon players, showing how machine learning through experience can outperform approaches relying on computational power alone.

  • TD-Gammon, an AI system developed by Gerald Tesauro in the 1990s, learned to play backgammon by playing thousands of games against itself. It compared its predictions about how games would unfold to the actual outcomes.

  • When its predictions were wrong, it treated that as an “error signal” to improve its strategic decisions. Over millions of games, its predictions became highly accurate and defeated human backgammon experts.

  • This reinforcement learning approach, where a system learns from its mistakes through trial-and-error without being explicitly programmed, has since been used to optimize complex problems like scheduling elevators and airline flights.

  • Research shows dopamine neurons in the brain operate similarly, generating predictions and using negative and positive feedback to reinforce or diminish certain connections over time. This allows the brain to intuitively learn patterns and strategies before consciously understanding them.

  • In gambling experiments, subjects’ skin conductance showed their emotions accurately identified risky decks of cards before they could logically explain which decks were best, demonstrating how emotions can reveal insights the conscious mind has yet to comprehend.

  • Robertie has excelled at chess, backgammon, and poker, which rely on different skills. He credits his success to knowing how to practice effectively.

  • When Robertie took up backgammon in the 1970s, he intensely studied the game through playing, memorizing, and dreaming about it. After years of practice, he had mastered the game and could analyze boards instinctively.

  • Robertie says the most effective practice focuses on analyzing mistakes. He carefully reviews his game decisions to critique mistakes and consider better options, even when he wins. Analyzing errors is essential for self-improvement.

  • Research by psychologist Carol Dweck found that praising children for effort, not an innate skill, leads them to embrace challenges and learn from mistakes more. Those praised for skill avoided difficulties and needed to learn better. Experts embrace intuitive thinking developed through rigorous practice and analysis of past errors.

  • Commander Michael Riley had extensive training in naval warfare simulations to learn detecting threats on radar screens.

  • During the Persian Gulf War, his training helped him detect an unknown blip that did not follow the pattern of returning American planes. His dopamine neurons were surprised by this deviation.

  • Trusting his intuitive feeling, Riley ordered defensive missiles to be launched, saving the battleship from an incoming Silkworm missile.

  • Ann Klinestiver was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in her 50s. She was prescribed a dopamine agonist drug to help manage her symptoms.

  • However, the drug caused her to develop a severe gambling addiction, losing over $250,000 gambling obsessively on slot machines despite having no prior interest in gambling.

  • Medical studies show that up to 13% of patients on dopamine agonists develop gambling problems. The drugs disrupt the brain’s dopamine system, making unpredictable rewards from gambling extremely pleasurable and compelling.

  • Ann could only stop gambling once taken off the dopamine agonist, though it caused her Parkinson’s symptoms to return. Her story illustrates how drug-induced dopamine imbalances can “fool” the brain into irrational decision making.

  • Belief in the “hot hand” phenomenon (when a player is streaky and more likely to make shots if they have recently made some) is an illusion caused by how our dopamine neurons function.

  • Dopamine neurons activate when we experience unexpected rewards and help us predict and learn patterns. However, they can lead us astray with random processes like basketball shots with no underlying pattern.

  • Studies of the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics showed no evidence that players who recently made shots were likelier to make their next shot. Streaks were just random variations.

  • We perceive patterns where none exist because dopamine neurons get a thrill from predicting outcomes correctly. This leads us to misinterpret randomness. Teams and players also distort their strategies based on this illusion.

  • Random processes like slot machines exploit this defect by activating dopamine neurons unpredictably, keeping us engaged in searching for nonexistent patterns and seducing us to keep playing beyond what we should. This can have devastating financial and personal consequences.

  • Deal or No Deal is a popular game show where contestants pick one of 26 sealed briefcases containing varying amounts of cash. They then open the remaining cases one by one to try and determine how much money is in their briefcase.

  • As the game progresses, the “Banker” offers to buy the contestant’s unopened briefcase. The contestant must decide to accept the deal or keep playing. This causes high tension as large amounts of potential winnings are at stake.

  • The amounts in the briefcases are randomly distributed, so there is no strategy to influence the outcome. It comes down to luck which briefcase is chosen.

  • However, the contestant can also decide analytically by calculating the average amount remaining and comparing it to the Banker’s offer. If the offer exceeds the average, they should accept the deal. Later offers tend to be close to this average, making the decision easier.

So in summary, Deal or No Deal pits luck against difficult risk/reward decisions for the contestants as they try to maximize their potential winnings from randomly assigned briefcase amounts.

  • Deal or No Deal is entertaining because most contestants make decisions based on emotions rather than careful math calculations. Taking the optimal strategic approach would make the game boring to watch.

  • Contestants like Nondumiso often make good decisions intuitively by trusting their feelings, but there are situations where emotions can fool people.

  • When the Banker’s offer decreases substantially after a contestant eliminates a high-value case, they often become excessively risk-seeking and reject fair offers due to feelings of loss aversion.

  • Loss aversion was demonstrated by Kahneman and Tversky - people do not evaluate risks rationally but are influenced more by potential losses than equivalent gains. They may reject a sure gain to gamble on a questionable loss.

  • This psychological flaw helps explain why contestants like Frank reject objectively good deals due to the emotional impact of recent losses, digging themselves deeper and losing out on significant money. Loss aversion is a hardwired defect that can lead people astray in uncertain situations.

  • Kahneman and Tversky found that losses loom larger than gains psychologically. The pain of a loss is about twice as potent as the pleasure of an equivalent gain.

  • This loss aversion helps explain the “premium equity puzzle” - why low-yielding bonds are popular despite stocks historically outperforming. Investors are averse to potential losses from stocks.

  • Even Nobel Prize winner Harry Markowitz needed to fully follow his optimal investment model due to loss aversion, splitting his portfolio evenly between stocks and bonds.

  • Loss aversion leads investors to sell stocks with increased value and hold on to losing stocks too long. Selling winners avoids locking in gains but losses are realized.

  • Experiments showed neurologically impaired patients who could not feel emotions invested more optimally due to lack of loss aversion’s influence. They were less risk-averse after losses.

  • Reality TV games like Deal or No Deal demonstrate loss aversion - people reject offers after potential gains decrease, fixating on reference points and the highest possible amounts despite reason. Emotions sabotage rational risk calculation.

  • Loss aversion stems from humanity’s negativity bias, where evil is psychologically more vital than good. Its influence can only be avoided by understanding its effects.

Herman is a financial counselor who helps people dealing with debt problems. He works for a nonprofit organization called GreenPath. His approach is to listen to clients without judgment, help them understand their debt’s root causes, and develop practical plans to get out of debt.

A key aspect of Herman’s approach is cutting clients’ credit cards in an initial meeting. He keeps the pieces in a large glass jar as a symbol of the prevalence of credit card debt problems. Herman finds that credit cards often lead people to make impulsive spending decisions they would not make if paying cash.

Many of Herman’s clients are single mothers or those living paycheck to paycheck in a working-class neighborhood. He empathizes with their struggles rather than criticizing poor financial decisions. Through careful analysis of expenses and changes in spending habits over time, Herman can help over 65% of clients complete debt elimination plans. The jar of credit card shards and his non-judgmental approach aims to show clients they are not alone and that help is available to get control of their finances.

  • Americans have increased credit card debt and negative savings rates in recent decades, spending more than they earn due to card interest payments.

  • People behave irrationally by accumulating credit card debt at high interest rates rather than saving, despite being expensive. Their emotional brain discounts future costs.

  • Subprime mortgages like 2/28 loans also take advantage of this by offering low initial payments that increase dramatically, resulting in many defaults.

  • Neuroscience research shows the emotional/impulsive part of the brain is activated more when considering immediate rewards, overriding rational decision making centered in the prefrontal cortex.

  • Credit card marketing uses tempting teaser rates to activate this emotional response, even though the long term costs are higher. People consistently choose short term gains over future savings due to how the brain is wired.

  • Understanding these biases could help policies encourage more rational long term financial decision making by accounting for emotional influences.

Here are the critical points about decisions in modern life summarized from the passage:

  • Our emotions and limbic system can lead us astray in decision-making by prioritizing short-term rewards over long-term gains. This is because making prudent long-term decisions requires more cognitive effort.

  • Economists are studying brain imaging data to help design policies and incentives that overcome irrational impulses and help people make better, more rational decisions. Examples given include the Save More Tomorrow 401(k) plan.

  • Cutting up credit cards can help people stay on budget and avoid giving in to the temptation of immediate gratification purchases. Relying on cash forces consideration of long-term impacts.

  • It is essential to understand our emotional flaws and find ways to compensate for them, like removing triggers of irrational behavior or designing choices that bypass emotional thinking. The goal is to help people triumph over irrational impulses and prioritize prudent, rational decisions.

  • The smokejumpers and Dodge were battling a raging wildfire. All the smokejumpers started running up a gulch to escape, thinking the ridge at the top would be safe.

  • Dodge stopped running and lit an escape fire instead of continuing to flee. The other smokejumpers thought he had gone crazy.

  • Dodge was an experienced veteran and knew the terrain and fires better than the younger smokejumpers. He realized the ridge was too far and the grass too dry - the fire would overtake them before they reached safety.

  • The smokejumpers were in a state of panic, which caused “perceptual narrowing” - they could only focus on escaping the immediate threat by running to the ridge.

  • Dodge could resist the urge to flee, driven by panic and fear. He used rational thinking instead, realizing an escape fire was a better option than continuing to run with no real escape. This showed the ability of rational thinking in the prefrontal cortex to overcome emotional reactions.

  • Dodge’s actions likely saved his life, while the smokejumpers who fled all perished, overcome by the speed and intensity of the raging wildfire. It demonstrated how rational thinking can find creative solutions in crises where emotional panic reactions are of no help.

The story describes the case of Mary Jackson, a 19-year-old college student with a bright future who changed behavior dramatically and saw her life fall apart. She began engaging in self-destructive behaviors like drug use, unsafe sex, and ditching classes. Her grades suffered and she developed medical issues.

Mary was diagnosed with a brain tumor pressing on her prefrontal cortex. This caused executive dysfunction and an inability to control impulses, think ahead, or maintain goals. Without an intact prefrontal cortex regulating her behaviors and emotions, she acted only on immediate urges rather than considering long-term consequences.

The story illustrates how damage to the prefrontal cortex can profoundly impact decision making, behavior, working memory, emotional control, and ability to plan for the future. It sheds light on this critical brain area’s role in higher cognitive functions and impulse control.

Cultivating virtue for Aristotle involved learning to manage one’s passions intelligently. Unlike Plato, Aristotle realized rationality and emotion are not always in conflict. He argued that Plato’s view of separating reason and emotion was an oversimplification. For Aristotle, one of reason’s key roles is ensuring emotions are applied appropriately to real-life situations.

Focus groups show how reason and emotion interact in the brain. Participants give real-time feedback on shows using dials to record emotional responses. However, emotions alone do not lead to good decisions. Executives must analyze the data from an emotional reaction and determine which feelings to trust and which may be flawed. This process mirrors how the prefrontal cortex monitors and guides emotional reactions in the brain. While emotions cannot be silenced, reason can help determine which to follow.

Mischel’s marshmallow test from the 1970s similarly showed how four-year-olds differed in self-control abilities. Children who waited longer for two treats had better outcomes later in life, demonstrating how emotion management skills develop early and correlate with long-term success.

  • Studies show that some children can better wait for a second marshmallow by using cognitive strategies like looking away rather than fixating on the treat. This ability to control impulses is linked to a more developed prefrontal cortex.

  • Children with ADHD struggle with impulse control and attention, which correlates with delayed prefrontal cortex development. However, the prefrontal cortex typically catches up by late adolescence.

  • Risky and impulsive behavior in teenagers can be partly explained by the later maturation of the prefrontal cortex compared to emotional brain areas involved in reward processing. The prefrontal cortex is still developing through adolescence.

  • Experiments like the Stroop task demonstrate the role of the prefrontal cortex in exerting executive control over thought and behavior by overriding automatic responses. This allows people to make rational decisions even when emotions point elsewhere. The precise architecture of the prefrontal cortex shows how it can flexibly modulate and direct activity across the brain.

In summary, the ability to delay gratification and exercise self-control is linked to the development and function of the prefrontal cortex in regulating impulses and directing rational thought.

  • The passage describes an experiment by cognitive psychologist Mark Jung-Beeman investigating the neural processes involved in insightful problem-solving.

  • Jung-Beeman had subjects solve verbal puzzles involving finding a single word that relates to three other given words. Solving these puzzles often involved an “aha!” moment of insight.

  • Using brain imaging, Jung-Beeman found insightful solutions that were preceded by activity in prefrontal areas involved in executive control and focus. This helped clear irrelevant thoughts.

  • The brain then generated associations across relevant areas like language centers. Most possibilities were useless, but executive areas kept searching until the correct answer was found.

  • When the solution was discovered, there was immediate recognition in the prefrontal cortex. Subjects felt the answer was correct.

  • Jung-Beeman’s research investigated how the prefrontal cortex, led by executive functions, generates creative solutions through focus, association generation, and insightful realization processes. This sheds light on the neural source of breakthrough ideas.

  • The pilots of United Airlines Flight 232 lost all hydraulic control of their plane due to an engine explosion, leaving them without any flight controls.

  • Captain Haynes came up with the idea to use differential thrust from the two remaining engines to control the plane by increasing or decreasing power on either side. This allowed them to turn the plane.

  • However, the plane began to pitch up and down in an unstable phugoid pattern that could cause them to lose control and crash.

  • Counterintuitively, Haynes realized he needed to increase power when the nose pitched down and decrease it when the nose pitched up, in order to control the phugoids. This worked.

  • The pilots could then line up the damaged plane to attempt an emergency landing at Sioux City airport. However, with no brakes or way to control descent, the plane came in too fast and crashed into a cornfield after landing, with 184 passengers surviving due to the pilots’ efforts to reach the runway.

  • The pilots kept their composure in an unprecedented emergency and invented a new method of flying without controls, significantly increasing the number of survivors in the crash. Their actions were called “highly commendable” by investigators.

  • The pilot of United Flight 232, Captain Al Haynes, was able to land the damaged plane in Sioux City through rational thinking and maintaining composure. This required using his prefrontal cortex to manage emotions and focus on problem solving.

  • After the plane lost hydraulic control, Haynes realized he needed to improvise by controlling the plane with differential thrust from the engines, which had never been done before. Studies showed that other pilots failed to land the plane using simulators.

  • A researcher analyzed the cockpit voice recordings and found the pilots had to process over 30 pieces of new information per minute during the descent, far more than usual. They focused only on the most critical data to avoid overload.

  • Haynes’ insight to use differential thrust came from his prefrontal cortex’s ability to associate different ideas and model solutions creatively. It can manipulate information in working memory to solve novel problems.

  • Haynes rationally analyzed possible control approaches, like increasing thrust during the climb, and realized a different response was needed. His explicit thinking allowed a safer solution.

  • While rational thinking saved the flight, the chapter notes it is not a perfect solution and can involve overthinking sometimes. Managing emotions and focusing deliberate thought was essential for Haynes to improvise a solution in the crisis.

  • There is a common belief that more deliberation and careful, rational thinking always lead to better decisions than impulsive decisions. This is based on the idea that rationality is perfect and can solve all problems.

  • However, new science shows that the rational brain has limitations and sometimes rational thinking can undermine performance and lead us astray. Too much deliberation and thinking can trigger “choking” in high-pressure situations.

  • Choking occurs when performers get so nervous that they focus too much on the technical details of their performance instead of letting their trained skills operate automatically. This undermines their natural fluidity and skills.

  • Experiments show novice performers focus better on technique, but experts perform worse with too much deliberate thinking and do better, letting instincts take over. Too much deliberation disrupted Van de Velde’s swing and caused him to choke at the British Open.

In summary, while rational thinking is essential, the new science shows it has clear limitations. More deliberation can backfire in high-pressure situations where performance relies on ingrained automatic skills. Both impulsive and extremely rational approaches have downsides.

  • Psychologist Timothy Wilson conducted an experiment replicating a Consumer Reports taste test of strawberry jams. College students’ jam preferences closely matched the expert panel’s, suggesting the innate ability to judge flavor.

  • Wilson then asked another group of students to analyze their jam preferences by explaining reasons for choices. This “overthinking” warped their judgments - they began preferring the lowest rated jam.

  • Wilson argues that too much rational analysis cuts us off from emotional wisdom about our valid preferences. We focus on irrelevant variables and talk ourselves into illogical choices.

  • Intrigued, Wilson devised another experiment asking women to choose a favorite poster, with or without explaining reasons. Those who overanalyzed preferences chose humorous cat posters over fine artworks, which 95% of the non-thinking group preferred.

  • The experiments show that relying exclusively on rational thought can backfire by interfering with intuition and ignoring valid preferences. Overanalysis leads people to make suboptimal choices they do not want. Intuition is sometimes wiser than reason.

  • Wilson conducted a study where women chose between art posters of Monet paintings or funny cat posters. Initially the choices were split, but more women chose the cat posters because it was easier to verbalize their reasons.

  • Follow up interviews found that those who chose the cat posters without overthinking regretted it more, while no one regretted the art posters. Overthinking leads to poorer decisions.

  • This is also an issue for more important decisions like choosing a home. People focus too much on minor amenities like extra bedrooms rather than important factors like long commute times. The more they think, the more weight they give unimportant factors.

  • Neuroscience research shows the prefrontal cortex, involved in conscious thought, can distort perceptions through mechanisms like placebo effects. It leads people to irrational expectations that influence decisions and experiences.

  • Experiments demonstrate that people perceive identical products differently based on irrelevant attributes like price labels. The prefrontal cortex’s distortion of perceptions misleads decision making rather than helping. Overthinking overrides intuitions from emotional brain areas.

So in summary, conscious thought and reasons can distort decisions by overweighting unimportant details and expectations, rather than helping make optimal choices by properly assessing factors. Overanalysis overrides intuitions that tend to lead to better outcomes.

Experiments showed that irrelevant factors like price tags can influence people’s preferences. Neuroeconomists had subjects taste the exact wine and told it was $90 or $35. Subjects rated the $90 wine better, showing expectations and a biased experience. Even wine experts were misled.

Knowing less can lead to better decisions. When retasting blind, subjects reversed preferences - the cheapest wine was rated best. Too much thinking in supermarkets can mislead choices for wrong reasons. Blind comparisons avoid such deception. Emotional brain is better for simple choices like jam or wine.

Brain imaging found that certain brain regions influence preferences, suggesting expectations can modulate every aspect of the experience. Expectations can be misleading when misled by false assumptions like price = quality. This shows that that preferences are not always rational.

Further experiments demonstrated how limited cognitive resources and willpower can impair rational decision making. Memorizing more digits led to worse food choices due to a drain on self-control regions. Lower blood sugar also inhibited self-control. Larger serving and scoop sizes unknowingly led people to overeat due to reliance on heuristics rather than accurate, rational evaluation. Together these show the flaws and limitations of rational decision making.

  • Researchers conducted an experiment where they had business students and executives bid on various items at an auction. Before bidding, participants wrote down the last two digits of their social security number.

  • They were then asked if they would pay that dollar amount for each item. For example, if the last two digits were 55, would they pay $55 for an item.

  • Participants were also asked to write down the maximum they would pay for each item.

  • Results showed those with higher social security numbers (80-99) bid on average 300% more than those with lower numbers (1-10), even though the numbers were meant to be irrelevant.

  • This shows the “anchoring effect” where irrelevant anchors like a random number can influence decisions. People must recognize and discount irrelevant information even when they know it is useless.

  • This effect is exploited by car sticker prices which anchor higher and make discounts seem like a better deal than they are. The brain gets distracted by irrelevant numbers rather than focusing on what an item is genuinely worth.

The passage discusses two studies that show the limitations of too much information when making decisions.

In the first study, students given extensive financial news and information did worse when trading stocks than those with less information. The well-informed group engaged in more unnecessary trading as they tried to act on all the rumors and data they were exposed to.

In the second study, college counselors given extensive personal information about students were less accurate at predicting their college grades than a basic mathematical formula using only two variables. The counselors got lost in all the extra details and stories rather than focusing on what mattered.

This goes against the assumption that more information is always better for decisions. The human brain can only process a limited amount of information at once. Too much data overwhelms the prefrontal cortex and undermines the ability to make good choices.

The passage then provides an example of how this played out with the introduction of MRIs for diagnosing back pain. While MRIs provided highly detailed images, they also detected many minor anatomical abnormalities often irrelevant to the pain. This distracted doctors from considering other potential causes, leading to misdiagnoses and unnecessarily invasive treatments like surgery. Seeing everything made it harder to know what was truly important.

  • The study looked at how back pain patients were treated depending on whether they received MRI scans.

  • Both groups generally improved over time, but the MRI group was diagnosed with more disc abnormalities and received more aggressive treatment like injections, physical therapy, and surgery. This led to higher costs but no better outcomes.

  • Doctors often misinterpreted MRI images as showing the cause of pain, when structural abnormalities often do not cause chronic back pain. This resulted in unnecessary, expensive treatments.

  • Medical guidelines now recommend against routine MRIs for nonspecific back pain. However, doctors often order them, wanting a clear explanation for patients’ pain, even if the tests provide irrelevant or misleading information.

  • The rational brain can paradoxically make us understand less when overwhelmed with too much irrelevant information. Doctors focused on MRI details rather than the fact that most patients improved with little treatment.

  • More data is only sometimes helpful; in this case it distracted from the critical variable of patient outcomes and led to unnecessary interventions based on misinterpreted MRI findings. Less information may have served doctors and patients better here.

  • Psychopaths have an innate emotional deficit that prevents them from feeling emotions like empathy, fear, guilt, or anxiety in a usual way. When exposed to emotionally charged stimuli, their brain scans show a lack of activation in emotion-processing areas.

  • This emotional void means they cannot internalize the feelings of others or learn from negative consequences. Aggression does not make them anxious like it would for most people. They can lie easily without exhibiting physical signs of deception.

  • The central deficit appears in the amygdala, responsible for processing aversive emotions. Without this processing, psychopaths do not feel bad when hurting others. Violence is just a means to an end rather than something inherently wrong.

  • This absence of emotion means psychopaths like Gacy cannot understand basic moral concepts. They appear calm and rational on the surface but their reasoning is often deranged beneath. Compared to other criminals, psychopaths seem emotionally empty and tranquil.

  • Psychopaths are dangerous because they lack normal human emotions that guide moral decisions. Their decisions are purely rational without visceral feelings telling them right from wrong.

  • Moral decisions require considering other people’s perspectives and feelings, not just maximizing pleasure. The brain evolved structures to consider strangers’ pain and needs.

  • An experiment tested reactions to hypothetical trolley problems. People were okay with turning a trolley to kill one person over 5, but almost no one was willing to push a large man onto the tracks to stop the trolley, even though the outcomes were the same.

  • Brain scans showed different areas activated for each decision. Directly harming someone activated emotion centers, making it feel morally wrong even if the logic was the same.

  • Our primate ancestors evolved social instincts to avoid harming each other. Basic morality precludes directly harming others.

  • The Ten Commandments reflect these innate moral instincts, such as not killing and avoiding direct harm to neighbors. Religion codified but did not invent our evolved ethics.

  • Even in war where killing is normalized, soldiers’ innate instincts often prevented them from directly shooting enemies due to emotional difficulty with personally harming others. The military had to train soldiers to override these instincts.

  • The military used new training techniques and tactics in the 20th century to desensitize soldiers to killing and make it an automatic response. This included emphasizing long-range weapons that obscured the personal impact of killing.

  • Studies showed that during WWII, only around 15-20% of soldiers fired their weapons, but in later wars like Korea and Vietnam, fire rates increased to around 55-90% due to this new training.

  • The aim was to turn the moral act of killing into an impersonal reflex so soldiers no longer felt negative emotions when firing. According to Grossman, the military succeeded in turning soldiers into “killing machines.”

  • A crucial part of moral decision making is sympathy - being able to imagine what others feel and not want to cause harm. The military training sought to reduce soldiers’ ability to sympathize with enemy combatants.

  • Understanding other minds and sympathizing with their perspective is crucial for fairness, cooperation, and altruism. However, the military training tried to break this linkage and make killing a detached, automatic act without consideration of the human cost.

  • Mirror neurons help people understand the emotions of others by mirroring their facial expressions and movements. Autistic people have been found to have less activity in their mirror neuron regions, making it difficult for them to interpret emotions.

  • Another brain area important for facial recognition, the fusiform face area (FFA), is also less active in autistics. They look at faces like objects rather than emotional stimuli. This helps explain their social difficulties.

  • Studies show autistics play economic games like the ultimatum game in a very logical, unemotional way that lacks consideration for others’ feelings. Their “mind blindness” makes social interactions hard to understand.

  • Isolating people makes them less sympathetic. In dictator games, those who cannot see the other player become selfish and keep more money rather than generously sharing it. Power and isolation diminish empathy.

  • Seeing individual suffering cases like a starving child elicits more donations than statistics, which are abstract and do not activate emotions. Individual stories engage our moral instincts more than the masses.

  • Child abuse can damage the developing brain circuits for sympathy. Harry Harlow’s experiments showed infant monkeys isolated from birth struggled socially and sometimes turned violent due to their “developmental damage.” Abuse diminishes our ability to feel compassion.

  • Harry Harlow conducted experiments in the 1950s and 60s showing that baby monkeys separated from their mothers developed profound psychological and social issues as adults, even if given food and comfort objects.

  • He found the baby monkeys strongly preferred soft cloth “mothers” to wire “mothers,” even if the wire mothers provided food, showing their need for affection and attachment beyond food or survival.

  • Those raised with only wire mothers or in isolation suffered severe emotional and social impairments like not knowing how to interact with or relate to other monkeys.

  • Later experiments in Romanian orphanages in the 1960s-80s mirror these findings, as babies deprived of human contact developed physical, cognitive, and emotional impairments like the inability to perceive or understand emotions.

  • Studies of abused American toddlers also found they struggled to show ordinary human sympathy to a crying peer, alternately making aggressive threats when unable to understand or regulate emotions.

  • Early deprivation of affection and attachment can cause lasting damage to emotional development and the ability to empathize due to its effects on developing brain regions involved in these functions. Proper care and loving relationships are essential for healthy psychological development.

  • Six monkeys were in separate cages and could see each other. When one monkey pulled a chain for food, another monkey in a different cage received an electric shock.

  • After witnessing this, four monkeys stopped pulling the chain to get food, since they did not want the other monkey to get shocked. One monkey stopped pulling for five days and another stopped for 12 days, starving themselves rather than have another monkey get hurt.

  • This showed that the monkeys were empathetic and cared about another monkey they did not even know getting hurt. Their behavior changed immediately after witnessing the shock to the other monkey.

  • Researchers conducted an experiment where they scanned subjects’ brains using fMRI while presenting them with shopping options where the cost of an item was significantly lower than usual.

  • They found they could predict purchasing decisions based on relative activity levels in brain regions like the insula (associated with feelings of negativity) and nucleus accumbens (associated with feelings of pleasure/reward).

  • If the insula’s activity exceeded the NAcc, subjects would choose not to buy. However, if the NAcc was more active, or the prefrontal cortex perceived it as a good deal, the item became irresistible despite the cost.

  • This contradicts rational economic models of decision making and shows that emotional brain regions like the NAcc and insula influence purchases more than deliberate cost-benefit analysis.

  • Retail stores are designed to stimulate the brain’s reward pathways by priming the NAcc and soothing the insula’s cost concerns through promotions and “deals,” increasing impulse purchases. Factors like credit cards that further inhibit the insula have an outsized influence on spending.

  • In summary, the experiment showed that purchasing decisions are more influenced by an “emotional tug-of-war” in the brain between pleasure and negativity centers than rational deliberation. Retail environments expertly exploit this for increased sales.

  • Political scientist Larry Bartels analyzed survey data from the 1990s which showed that even Republican voters who were well-informed (read the news regularly, could identify their representatives) wrongly believed the budget deficit increased under Clinton, when it declined by over 90%.

  • This shows that partisan bias can override factual information. Voters will ignore or rationalize away facts that do not fit their preexisting beliefs.

  • Psychologists conducted experiments in the 1960s showing religious individuals ignored noisy messages critiquing their beliefs, while non-believers tried to reduce noise to hear the messages better.

  • Philip Tetlock conducted a massive decades-long study of expert political pundits’ predictions. He found pundits, even famous ones, performed worse than chance at predictions.

  • Pundits tended to be overconfident in their views and ignore dissonant information. They justified conclusions before evaluating evidence rather than letting evidence shape conclusions.

  • The best predictors acknowledged uncertainties, stated opinions in testable ways, and monitored their performance over time. Certainty was usually a sign of closed-mindedness leading to worse predictions.

  • Partisanship, ideology, and desire for certain conclusions can generally lead people to rationalize views and ignore incongruent facts, even among those considered experts. Being open-minded to alternative views results in a more accurate analysis.

  • In September 1973, Egyptian and Syrian armies began massing near the Israeli border in large numbers, raising concerns about the possibility of an attack. However, Israeli intelligence director Eli Zeira dismissed the idea, believing the buildup was just rhetoric and could not represent an invasion capability.

  • On October 6, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israeli positions in the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. The Israeli military was caught off guard as they had not fully mobilized. Initial battles went poorly for Israel.

  • After several days of fighting, Israel began to gain the upper hand, repelling the Syrian assault and pushing into Syria while also establishing a foothold on the west side of the Suez Canal against Egypt. A ceasefire took effect by October 22.

  • An investigation afterward found Israeli intelligence had missed numerous warning signs in the weeks prior that should have alerted them to imminent war, like the evacuation of Soviet advisers and movement of antiaircraft missiles. They were wedded to an outdated assessment of Arab capabilities and intentions. The failure to anticipate the attack revealed gaps in Israel’s military preparedness and intelligence assumptions.

  • Michael Binger is a particle physicist and professional poker player. He spends June-July in Las Vegas competing in the World Series of Poker.

  • He plays nearly non-stop from noon to early morning, requiring little sleep due to being mentally wired from playing. He reviews hands in his room to improve.

  • Binger started playing cards and blackjack in college. He learned to count cards, giving him a 1% edge over casinos. This showed him that intelligence could lead to wins over the long run.

  • However, casinos monitor betting patterns. So Binger had to lose hands occasionally to avoid detection intentionally. Still, he was too successful and got blocked from multiple casinos.

  • After getting kicked out of 6 Reno casinos in one day for counting cards, he focused on his physics studies. However, he says the analytical card skills helped with complex science problems involving focus and decision-making.

  • Binger began his professional career playing poker after realizing he needed a break from his PhD studies in physics. He found he had a natural talent for the game.

  • Poker, like physics, requires focusing on essential variables, clear thinking, and not getting distracted. Losing your train of thought can be costly when counting cards or playing high-stakes poker games.

  • Binger develops strict routines to keep him focused on poker, such as always eating the same breakfast and working out in a regimented way. This consistency prevents distractions and allows him to concentrate on the game entirely.

  • Binger competes in the World Series of Poker, one of the most lucrative sporting events in the world. Navigating the high stakes tournament over multiple days takes discipline and strong statistical/probabilistic thinking.

  • In the beginning, Binger plays cautiously, carefully assessing odds and only betting when his hand has a statistical advantage. He looks to avoid risky moves and stay in the tournament as long as possible through this initial phase.

  • Binger played in a poker tournament where skill slowly eliminated weaker players over multiple days and nights of playing. By the seventh day he had accumulated around $6 million in chips.

  • Jamie Gold had the chip lead at the final table, but Binger played conservatively, watching for opportunities. When five players left, Binger saw a chance to knock out Paul Wasicka.

  • Binger was dealt pocket kings and decided to make an aggressive all-in bet, overplaying his hand to appear weak and trying to get Wasicka to call with a weaker hand. His behavior seemed to indicate anxiety but his brother recognized he was pretending to be weak.

  • Wasicka took the bait and called with a weak hand, believing Binger was bluffing. Binger won the big pot, doubling his chips. He said this move was based more on intuition than math, seizing an opportunity rather than careful calculation.

  • Poker requires both mathematical skill and intuition/psychology. While some hands are clear odds decisions, many mysterious hands require relying more on feelings, reads of opponents, and gambles rather than statistics alone. This move helped propel Binger further in the tournament.

  • The passage discusses two studies by psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis examining conscious vs unconscious decision making.

  • In the first study, subjects chose between cars rated on different attributes. Those who consciously deliberated did best when there were few attributes, but poorly when many overwhelmed their conscious minds. Subjects distracted after viewing did best when attributes were many.

  • An actual world study found that simple purchases like kitchen tools were easy decisions aided by conscious thought. Complex purchases like furniture overwhelmed the conscious mind, and distracted subjects were more satisfied.

  • The passage argues complex decisions are best made unconsciously after intuitively processing vast amounts of information rather than consciously getting fixated on one or two variables. When there is too much to process rationally, our emotions can help filter choices better than logic alone. This illustrates the benefits of both rational and irrational thinking.

The article argues that to make even better decisions, especially on complex issues, people should consciously reflect on their options initially to gather all relevant information but then let their unconscious minds digest and process the information for some time before making a choice. This allows the intuitive, emotional part of the brain to analyze the options more holistically than the rational, conscious mind cannot. Test subjects who used this approach - looking at the options consciously and then letting their unconscious minds marinate on them before choosing - were most satisfied with their decisions later on. For complex choices, consciously analyzing all the pros and cons overwhelms the rational brain. Instead, taking time for unconscious processing allows emotions and intuition to help guide choice in a way the conscious mind cannot.

  • Tetlock studied political pundits and found that a small minority predicted events better than chance. He attributed this to their thinking style.

  • Tetlock used Isaiah Berlin’s “hedgehogs” and “foxes” metaphor to describe thinking styles. Hedgehogs rely on a single overriding theory, while foxes gather diverse information and consider multiple perspectives.

  • Successful pundits thought like foxes - they were skeptical, open-minded, gathered diverse evidence, and listened to dissenting views. They avoided bouts of overconfidence in their theories.

  • Importantly, fox-like thinkers also “introspect” - they think about their thoughts and are aware of their cognitive biases and blind spots. This meta-cognition helps them make better judgments.

  • Like the fox-thinkers, poker player Michael Binger constantly reflected on which cognitive strategies to use in different situations. His mental flexibility allowed him to make better in-game decisions than others.

  • In summary, avoiding overconfidence, gathering diverse evidence, listening to dissent, and introspecting on one’s thought processes promotes more accurate and optimal decision-making.

  • Al Haynes showed creative problem solving when his plane lost steering and he realized he could steer with the thrust levers instead. This type of insight requires the flexible neurons in the prefrontal cortex.

  • Research also shows that people in good moods better solve complex problems requiring insight. Happy people solve around 20% more puzzles. This is because brain areas involved in executive function like the prefrontal cortex and ACC are not as distracted by managing emotions when happy.

  • When facing unprecedented situations, allowing the rational brain to focus on solutions rather than emotions leads to better decision making.

  • Entertaining competing hypotheses and reminding yourself of what you do not know helps avoid the certainty trap. This ensures your mental debate is not clear after considering all arguments.

  • Emotions are intelligent and capture wisdom from past experiences in a domain of expertise. Trust your emotions when making expert decisions even if you cannot explain the reasoning consciously.

  • Thinking about your thinking helps avoid cognitive biases and mistakes. Studying how your brain works allows you to recognize errors and improve decision making over time. The best decision makers learn from failures.

Pilot error as a cause of fatal commercial airline crashes dramatically decreased in the mid-1980s due to the introduction of flight simulators and Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) training.

Flight simulators revolutionized pilot training by allowing pilots to practice responding to emergencies and learn from mistakes in a risk-free environment. This helped pilots internalize emergency procedures to make quick, informed decisions during emergencies. CRM training taught pilots to work as a team and share information, preventing overconfidence by any one pilot. It encouraged all crew members to speak up about potential errors.

These changes were driven by accidents where pilot errors may have been prevented through improved decision-making, such as United Flight 173 in 1978, which crashed due to fuel exhaustion. After implementing CRM training, airlines saw significantly fewer accidents caused by pilot error. The principles of CRM have also been adopted in other high-risk fields like surgery to improve teamwork and catch potential mistakes. As a result, commercial air travel is now highly safe with very few fatal crashes caused by pilot error in recent decades.

Here is a summary of the key points about decision-making from the provided text:

  • Pilots are like the prefrontal cortex of a plane, monitoring the autopilot systems and intervening when needed to correct errors and prevent crashes. They work with the autopilot (“amygdala”) in an ideal balance.

  • Autopilots alone are fallible and will make mistakes, but having pilots oversee them and take control when needed dramatically improves safety. Planes leverage the strengths of both human and computer decision-making.

  • Aviation has achieved extremely high safety standards through a science-based approach to understanding and reducing pilot error. Minor innovations and awareness of cognitive flaws can significantly improve decision-making performance.

  • Both the emotional “amygdala” systems, like autopilots, and rational brain systems, like pilots, are prone to errors alone. However, working together in their respective domains of strength results in mistakes caught and fixed before disasters.

  • The text argues that we can improve our decision-making by honestly assessing cognitive strengths and weaknesses and leveraging technology/automation while still providing human oversight, similar to the effective pilot-autopilot model used in planes.

Here is a summary of the sources cited in the passage:

  • Gordon, ed., Your Brain on Cubs, chapter 3 - Cited for a study on world-class cricket batters.

  • Muller et al., “World-Class Cricket Batsmen,” 2162–86 - Study on world-class cricket batsmen.

  • James, Principles of Psychology, 389 - Cited for a quote about the facts of psychology.

  • Klein, Sources of Power, 36–38; Finlan, The Royal Navy, 147–147 - Cited regarding ownership of naval power.

  • Olds and Milner, “Positive Reinforcement,” 419–419 - Early study on reward pathways in the brain using rats.

  • Schultz et al., “Predictive Reward Signal”; Hollerman and Schultz, “Dopamine Neurons” - Studies on dopamine neuron firing and prediction of rewards.

  • P. Gaspar et al., “Catecholamine Innervation” - Study on dopamine innervation in the prefrontal cortex.

  • Kennerley, “Optimal Decision-Making” - Study on decision making at Oxford.

  • Hayden and Platt, “Fool Me Once” - Study on learning from previous rewards and punishments.

  • Klein et al., “Genetically Determined Differences” - Study on genetics and dopamine levels.

  • Zweig, Your Money, and Your Brain, 69 - Cited for a quote about investment predictions.

  • Cohen et al., “Reinforcement Learning” - Study on reinforcement learning and emotions.

  • Juckel et al., “Dysfunction of Ventral Striatal”; Dolan et al., “Dopaminergic Modulation” - Studies on dopamine and schizophrenia.

  • Montague, Why Choose This Book?, 93–100 - Cited regarding Tesauro’s work on backgammon playing neural network.

  • Read Montague, interview with the author, May 7, 2007 - Interview with neuroscientist Read Montague.

  • Ito, “Performance Monitoring” - Study on performance monitoring in the brain.

  • Bechara et al., “Deciding Advantageously” - Study on decision making and the somatic marker hypothesis.

  • Oya et al., “Electrophysiological Correlates” - Study on electrophysiological correlates of reward and decision making.

  • Betsch et al., “Different Principles” - Study different investment decision strategies.

  • Bill Robertie, telephone interview with the author, October 10, 2007 - Telephone interview with Bill Robertie.

  • Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations, 35 - Cited for a quote about expectations.

  • Cimpian et al., “Subtle Linguistic Cues”; Bronson, “How Not to Talk”; Mangels et al., “Why Do Beliefs” - Studies on linguistic cues and beliefs about ability.

In summary, the sources cited provide background information from studies in psychology, neuroscience, and other fields relevant to the topics discussed in the passage. They help support and provide evidence for the various points and ideas presented.

Here is a summary of the key points from “The Role of the Fusiform Face Area”:

  • The fusiform face area (FFA) is a region in the human brain located in the fusiform gyrus that responds selectively to faces. It was discovered in the mid-1990s using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

  • When the FFA is damaged, it leads to facial recognition and discrimination impairments, suggesting it plays a vital role in processing faces. Damage to nearby areas does not produce the same deficits.

  • fMRI studies found that the FFA responds much more to images of faces than other objects like houses, cars, etc. This shows it has a highly selective response to faces.

  • The FFA is involved in identifying facial identity, expressions, and lip-reading. It helps extract the unique features of individual faces.

  • While it plays a role in facial processing, the FFA is not the only brain area involved. Other regions also respond to faces and are likely involved in different aspects of face recognition and social processing.

  • Further research is still needed to fully understand the FFA’s functional properties and neural connections and how it contribute to our expert ability to recognize and interpret faces.


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