On Second Thought

  • by Wray Herbert
  • Narrated by Dan John Miller
  • 8 hrs and 35 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Our brains are marvels, hard-wired by millions of years of evolution to boast a number of mental shortcuts, biases, and tricks that allow us to negotiate our complicated lives without overthinking every choice and decision we have to make. Unfortunately, those ancient shortcuts don't always work to our advantage in our modern lives - when we don't also think slowly and rationally, those hard-wired habits can trip us up. This intriguing book helps us to understand how our minds are predisposed to think about the world - and how to avoid many of life's common mistakes. Among the surprising examples of these mental habits at work in our lives:


Experienced skiers make fatal mistakes on familiar terrain more often than less experienced ones.
99.9 percent of the citizens of France are registered organ donors, but only 28 percent of Americans are.
Early birds on jury duty are more likely to succumb to racial stereotypes in delivering verdicts when the day gets late.
People who are hungry for lunch will donate less money to charity.

Wray Herbert introduces us to 20 of these shortcuts and biases, explaining how they affect us in the real world and how they're being studied in labs around the world.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Here's My Thought, "On Second Thought"

I found this book to be engaging as well as interesting. One reviewer had noted the similarities between Malcolm Gladwell books and this one.

I do agree that both author's works are captivating and explore brain science and social memes in an entertaining manner; spiced with insight, fun facts and candid stories.

I'm not sure how useful this book is, but it is a great read or listen to, in this case. This book tells of our brain's evolution and how we have become hardwired to certain decision making patterns based on psychological heuristics. After reading this book you may not be able to alter your brain's hard wiring but you will be able to (better) identify why you feel a certain way or make a decision. You'll have a better understanding of the route your mind takes to analyze choices, right or wrong.

Buy this book if you:

a) Want a good, light, non-fiction read about your brain.
b) Want to be entertained and learn something about the mechanics behind your decision making process.

This book might not be for you if you are expert in the field of cognitive brain science and seek a serious, 'just the facts' style research report.
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- Todd

Main Points of On Second Thought

Wray Herbert's engaging On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits has three main messages:

1. Evolved Brains: Our minds (which drive our thoughts, actions, and reactions), are evolved organs, constructed by adaptation over long periods of time to our environments.

2. Brain / Modern-Environment Mismatch: Unfortunately, our brains evolved in very different environments in which we now find ourselves. This leads to our reactions, biases, and thoughts to be too often mismatched and maladapted to circumstances in a 21st century world.

3. Choice with Knowledge: However, if we understand where our immediate reactions and thoughts come from, we can overcome irrational action and make choices that benefit our long-term goals.

Herbert is a journalist, reporting on the academic work of behavioral economists and experimental psychologists. The strength of On Second Thought is the breadth in which psychological and behavioral theory and experimental results are examined. If you are interested in the academic literature on the limits of rational behavior (as I am), then On Second Thought is both an excellent primer and synthesizer.

Dan Ariely covers much of the same ground in Predictably Irrational and the The Upside of Irrationality, but did so in a much more nuanced, intimate, curious and personal manner.

On Second Thought would have been a better book if Herbert had some questions he wanted to answer, or things he wanted to figure out about himself, and was able to weave the research on decision making into a more compelling narrative.
Despite these quibbles, On Second Thought is a worthy addition to our "dumb us" and "getting our minds around our brains" bookshelves.
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- Joshua Kim

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-14-2010
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio