Decisions, Decisions

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jonah Lehrer, editor at large for Seed Magazine, contributor to Radio Lab and the author of How We Decide, explains how humans make decisions using the latest insights from behavioral economics and neuroscience. What's the most rational or irrational decision you've ever made? What's your decision-making approach - trust your gut or think it through? Comment below!


Jonah Lehrer

Comments [27]

Brendan from Brooklyn

On a whim in 2006, I took a road trip from Iowa to New York City with some college buddies. We had just graduated, and I wanted to pursue a career in radio. When the week was through, instead of returning home as planned--the rational choice--I stayed behind and started an internship at, yes, WNYC. I couch-surfed with friends in Brooklyn until I could get a place of my own. Now I make ends meet as a freelance producer and engineer (still aiming for that first staff position). It was the most impulsive and least rational decision I've ever made, and I've never once regretted it.

Feb. 26 2009 11:40 AM
Edward from NJ

I quite rationally invested in a Financial Services mutual fund a year ago. "How can these stocks get any lower!?!", I thought. I'm currently resisting buying Citibank and BofA shares.

Feb. 26 2009 11:25 AM
George of manahattan from NYC Manhattan

I was attacked by two guys in the lobby of a public housing complex and made the decision to not hit them back for fear of angering them so I just tried to block their punches while moving toward the door, which worked for a bit, but then one of them pulled out a bottle and hit me over the head, cutting my scalp badly and putting me in a shock state with everything turning to slow motion. They then threw me across the lobby and I landed on my back with one of them about to punch me. I said, "Wait, take my wallet." which they did and left. I am not sure if any decision I made could have made this turn out better, but I did survive, though with a scar and some serious trauma, but I lived. You tell me it I made the right decisions.

Feb. 26 2009 11:23 AM
b's mom from brooklyn, ny

most irrational decision i ever made was having a child based on how i felt when i became pregnant.

i felt it was exactly what i was supposed to be doing, even though i had never wanted children my entire life previously and was also unmarried.

one of the best things i have ever done. (and hardest!)

Feb. 26 2009 11:20 AM
News today from Brooklyn

Haynes was the pilot of that flight, but Dennis Fitch was the DC 10 flight instructer who (just happened to be on that plane on that flight by luck) developed the method to get the plane down. Just FYI

Feb. 26 2009 11:19 AM
Jill Bernacchi from United States

In an madly,indecisive moment regarding continuing graduate school, I allowed the subways running Northbound versus Southbound to decide my decision. The Northbound subway arrived first, the train to my grad school. However, the train pulled into the station, stopped long enough for me to feel devastated about my "fate," and then preceeded out of the station to never open its doors to me. This irrational decision allowed me to get in touch with my true feelings, and I subsequently quit working towards a degree that wasn't for me.

Feb. 26 2009 11:18 AM

I decided to get a puppy dog when leaving in an illegal sublet in the East Village which did not allow pets with the management company right across the street.

I got caught, I lost the apartment
13 years later live in brooklyn and my senile puppy dog loves the back yard

i'd say it worked out

Feb. 26 2009 11:17 AM
HC from nyc

not to be an upstart but aren't we assuming too much in categorizing decisions in such a strict duality? I really cannot always say what would be a rational or irrational decision. I think this is sort of a false choice really. Couldn't we also say that people who we see as acting 'irrationally' perhaps simply not aware of the rationality that they are in fact using? Also, this whole dualistic world view sort of prevents us from understanding that there are different logics all of them reducible to different "essential" relations and how we have learned to be happy or attain goals (or NOT attain our goals, it gets all very complex).

I really loather this view of the brain as a Swiss army knife. Seems antithetical to Proust.

Feb. 26 2009 11:17 AM
Chad from Ridgewood

I am gay and I entered a relationship with a foreign national. From the very beginning it was problematic because we could never look past the present because without the prospect of marriage we could never be married and he would have to leave. I trusted my heart but it's been a struggle since that time because it's like we have no future. Anyway 6 years later our relationship is at a breaking point because he has to leave. It feels like an investment with no return.

Feb. 26 2009 11:16 AM
mary from suffern, ny

Can you comment on decision making and ADD?
Thank you.

Feb. 26 2009 11:15 AM
Liz from Greenwich, CT

Most irrational decision (and best ever decision/outcome): accepting my now husband's proposal of marriage after knowing him only 35 days. Met through a dating service. Knew that if I considered his proposal in the "thoughtful" way that I analyze everything else, I'd come out at the wrong answer. After 7 happy years, I'm glad I trusted my gut!

Feb. 26 2009 11:15 AM
Michael from Loisaida

Posting a comment on Brian's site in hopes that my ex will hear it on the air and be overwhelmed with regret. I guess it's up to you if it works out Brian! =)

Feb. 26 2009 11:15 AM
tom from qns

Aren't some huge decisions we make in favor of family or emotions anti-rational? After graduating from college I stayed with my grandparents and mother for many years until my grandparents died. Everyone around me thought i should get on w/ my career. Turned out to be the most valuable period of my life. God Bless them!

Feb. 26 2009 11:14 AM
Alice from Brooklyn

I quit my job and moved to Paris for a guy, without much of a plan. The thing with the guy didn't work out, and I came back after two months. However, it was an important jump in that I was in a rut. It forced me to quit a job I hated and was stuck in, and the prospect with the new guy forced me to break up with the former guy, who wasn't treating me right and yet I couldn't bring myself to break up with!

Feb. 26 2009 11:14 AM
Penelope from Port Washington

I chose to get into a truck with no roof, no windshield, and no seatbelts to drive from LA to Missouri purely on the basis that I would follow my friend who owned the truck anywhere. Turned out to be a bad decision. After a serious car accident, tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, I also lost my friend.

Feb. 26 2009 11:13 AM
a woman from brooklyn from brooklyn, ny

Starting a relationship and moving in with someone after meeting him a week prior based solely on irrational lust and unexplainable feelings of love and a romantic New Year's weekend in Paris.

Bad and good outcomes:

Bad because it was a terrible relationship with someone who I had nothing in common and pressured myself to stay with for 4 years due to my previous irrational behaviors and wanting to justify it all to myself as being sound.

Good decision because I ended that relationship and I'm hoping I learned things that will improve my next relationship decision. (But to be honest, I am not sure because aren't we all irrational humans at times not necessarily by choice?)

Feb. 26 2009 11:13 AM
Heidi Waterfall from Ithaca, NY

On our first date, I suggested to my date that we move in together and on our second date, we signed a lease. 5 years later, we are happily married and have a beautiful son. Pretty impulsive and irrational but definitely the right move!

Feb. 26 2009 11:11 AM
jhc from glen ridge, nj

most irrational decision i've ever made: to have kids! (i'd do it again)

Feb. 26 2009 11:09 AM
Michael from Manhattan

Quitting my well-paying, enjoyable job to go to *pre*-med school. I can't say what made me do it, some intangible feeling about "doing the right thing". Ask me again in two years if it was the right decision!

Feb. 26 2009 11:09 AM
Ted from Brooklyn

I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute out of High School to study computer science. I did well in classes and made good friends. I could have graduated with solid career opportunities.

Instead, over the summer (when already registered for the next year at RPI) I decided to transfer to Pratt and pursue an artistic career even though I had not taken art classes since 7th grade, was unsure of how I would compare to other students and had no specific idea of how I would earn my living after art school.

After graduating, I worked successfully as a freelance illustrator for many years and now, while I make the majority of my living as a web and interactive developer, I also regularly participate in fine art exhibitions.

It was not a logical decision, but it felt right and has worked out well.

Feb. 26 2009 11:08 AM
Evelyn Orton from Brooklyn

June 1970 quit college at end of sophomore year and hitchhiked from Delaware to Colorado with a group of about 10 other students and former student/slackers. Between 1970 and March 1971 I briefly lived in Colorado, San Francisco and Houston Texas. I was a lost soul. May not have taken this course if I had a mentor or could get good advice from my parents. Finally ended up in NYC where my older sister and her husband lived. Got a secretarial job at NYU and eventually decided to return to collegd, helped by free tuition to do pre-requesites, got accepted into a professional degree program and have had a successful career in Physical Therapy. Kind of a circuitous route but it turned out well.

Feb. 26 2009 11:08 AM
Jamaica Jones from Brooklyn

(One of) The Most Irrational Decision(s) I've Made:

Once upon a time, I woke up on a grey January morning feeling antsy. Out of the blue, I decided to call in sick to work and promptly booked a journey that began in Paris and ended in Istanbul, winding through Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia (by bus) along the way.

It was the best month of my life.

Feb. 26 2009 11:01 AM
hjs from 11211

my problem was in my youth not making the wrong decision but making NO decision and hoping things would work out. HEY I'm still alive, most of the time it's worked out but oh how I've suffered, still digging out of the hole etc.
I wish I got just get into a time machine and tell myself make goals and stick to them.

Feb. 26 2009 11:00 AM
Lucy from Inwood

I am historically very logical and rational, and I dropped out of graduate school at MIT on a whim to move to NYC for a boyfriend I barely knew. I hopped on Greyhound bound for NYC with all of my stuff and NO PLAN.

I ended up getting accepted to a comparable program in the city at the very last minute (technically a week after classes started). I'll graduate this year and thankfully the boyfriend and I broke up shortly after my arrival in NYC.

I still can't believe I did it, but I am SO THANKFUL that I ended up in NYC. I love my life.

Feb. 26 2009 10:59 AM
Anna from Copenhagen, Denmark

After graduating from college, I decided to move to Copenhagen, Denmark from NY to be with my Danish boyfriend. I must say it was a rather hasty decision, but I've now lived here for two years and wouldn't change it for the world. I am studying for my Master's degree (for free), working, learning a new language and am still happily together with my boyfriend. Of course there are things I miss, but thanks to live-streaming NPR isn't one of them.

Feb. 26 2009 10:58 AM
Emily Santoro from Manhattan

About 15 years ago I got a fortune cookie that suggested it was a good time to buy stocks, so, I gave it a try and bought Apple. Got lots of money, still ahead even in this depressed market. Food was pretty good too.

Feb. 26 2009 10:54 AM
a woman from manhattan

Choosing between:
1. Taking anti-depressants and maintaining a relationship with my parents
2. Ditching my parents, and -- (as it turns out!) -- not needing anti-depressants anymore.

I chose #2. It paid off. My life had turned around. At the age of 43 I'm finally very happy, productive, and all my relationships are healthy. Rationale: they gave me life, but not so they could ruin it.

Decision-making philosophy: be practical, choose the easier, less emotionally and financially 'expensive' option, and everyone will be happier. (My parents may think they miss me, but their lives are certainly less hectic without the drama, fighting and misery our relationship caused all of us.)

Feb. 26 2009 09:53 AM

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