Choosing between colleges or job offers is challenging: one job may offer more prestige—seemingly the logical choice—but our gut seems to be pulling us in another direction. So which do we trust? In Feeling Smart: Why Our Emotions Are More Rational Than We Think (PublicAffairs, 2014), economics professor Eyal Winter proposes that the best choices often come when we combine logic and emotion. Combining research on decision making, human behavior and evolution, Winter explores how our emotions interact with rational thinking. He finds that we can often trust our gut instincts to lead us to good choices and that our emotional reactions can work in our favor. In one study conducted by Winter, he found that our inclination to become angry actually increases when we can benefit from the emotion. “In other words,” he writes, “there is logic in emotion and often emotion in logic.”
Often, however, we are faced with group, not individual, decisions that involve and affect our loved ones, business and economic ventures, or social activities. In Wiser: Getting beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School, and Reid Hastie, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, delve into the psychology of group decision making—why the hive mind can make mistakes and how to avoid those pitfalls. First, Sunstein and Hastie explain that instead of correcting errors in reasoning, the group voice may amplify mistakes or become divided on an issue, leading to discord. The authors then offer advice to guide the group to better choices, by, for instance, giving quieter members a stronger voice or combining opinions and solutions from different individuals to forge new ideas.
Still, much of our decision-making processes occur outside of our conscious awareness. In Unthink: And How to Harness the Power of Your Unconscious (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015), evolutionary biologist Chris Paley explains the interesting, sometimes bizarre, ways in which our unconscious mind influences our choice of friends, how we receive good news or even what foods we buy. Paley also offers advice on how to use this understanding of the unconscious to our advantage. For instance, he explains that you are more likely be asked out on a date if you discreetly mimic your potential mate's body language and speech.