Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide breaks down decision making into a very compelling argument that contradicts the cultural perceptions of an “emotional” or “irrational” individual being incapable of making decisions. Instead he breaks down how emotions inform logical thinking and decision-making as critically as the rational brain.
“Even when we think we know nothing, our brains know something. That’s what our feelings are trying to tell us.” p.48
Probably one of the most high pressure examples Lehrer uses involves a lieutenant during the Persian Gulf War who has moments to decide whether the blip on the radar is an enemy missile or a plane full of supplies headed for his battleship. The information obtained from the radar leaves the lieutenant with no identifiable information as to which the aircraft holds, however based on a “bad feeling” and seconds to decide, he fires at the plane: lo and behold the plane was aircraft carrying missile. After much psychological testing on the lieutenant it is discovered that the “bad feeling” he experienced was not subjective, but based on a subtle difference in the appearance of the blip on the radar; had it been a supply plane for his troops it would have appeared on the radar barely a second before it had appeared for the enemy’s plane.
These moments where our brain understands before it can articulate it to our consciousness happen more often than we would think. Lehrer uses a series of brain chemistry experiments and examples to talk about how decisions are neither subjective feelings nor completely utilitarian decisions, but rather are informed by subtleties to generate one’s overall decision and perspective. Our brain responds to and reacts before we can consciously recognize what it is reacting to at times. Feelings that we have are often our bodies processing and then our brains chemically reacting to a situation or event. In this way Lehrer justifies the interconnectivity of emotion and reason as one in the same.
These ideas are compelling to me as someone who aims to create interactive pieces of work. It calls into question what is intuitive for a user experience. What subtleties can be implied in a piece of work that can be creative, but that a user can intuitively understand and adapt to? Pushing the envelope of design seems to be the marriage of technical familiarity that the brain can understand and a visual and technical creativity that is seductive and practical. For someone with my experience, this book calls brings to light a conversation about design, user experience, and the interwoven aspect of functionality and emotion.