Barack Obama still has a month before his inauguration as the 44th U.S. president, but there have already been a number of attempts to get inside his brain. For some, that might mean Karen Kornbluh, his chief policy director. But for us here at Scientific American, that means his actual brain.
So we were happy to see Jonah Lehrer [pictured, left] offer some of his own brain’s thoughts on our next president’s brain in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. In the interview, Lehrer -- the editor of SciAm.com’s Mind Matters column—touches on the tendency to stand by our beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. That’s a key theme of Lehrer’s new book, How We Decide, which unravels the latest neuroscience research on the complex emotional and (sometimes) rational forces that interact to influence our decisions.
The tendency to get stuck to beliefs is especially worrying when it affects politicians’ decision making, but Lehrer credits president-elect Obama with having a nuanced understanding of the human mind’s potential pitfalls. Obama, he says, is especially skilled at thinking about thinking: “I imagine that if you took a scan of his brain, you would see lots of activity in the prefrontal cortex, which doesn’t mean that he doesn’t experience the primal emotions that come from the amygdala.”
If you’re curious about the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, among other issues, Lehrer has covered a number of topics he discusses in the Times interview in depth in Mind Matters: animal cognition, why we gamble and abuse credit cards, and the dangers of our built-in certainty bias. Some of those columns appear in the print edition of Scientific American Mind.
Can’t decide which of those links to click on first? Lehrer may be able to help you with that.
photo of Jonah Lehrer by Nina Subin