Cover image for Feeling smart : why our emotions are more rational than we think
Feeling smart : why our emotions are more rational than we think
Winter, Eyal.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Regashot ratsyonaliyim. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, 2014.
Physical Description:
xx, 262 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"Published in 2012 in Hebrew in Israel, by Zmora Bitan."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF448 .W56413 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Which is smarter--your head or your gut? It's a familiar refrain: you're getting too emotional. Try and think rationally. But is it always good advice?

In this surprising book, Eyal Winter asks a simple question: why do we have emotions? If they lead to such bad decisions, why hasn't evolution long since made emotions irrelevant? The answer is that, even though they may not behave in a purely logical manner, our emotions frequently lead us to better, safer, more optimal outcomes.

In fact, as Winter discovers, there is often logic in emotion, and emotion in logic. For instance, many mutually beneficial commitments--such as marriage, or being a member of a team--are only possible when underscored by emotion rather than deliberate thought. The difference between pleasurable music and bad noise is mathematically precise; yet it is also something we feel at an instinctive level. And even though people are usually overconfident--how can we all be above average?--we often benefit from our arrogance.

Feeling Smart brings together game theory, evolution, and behavioral science to produce a surprising and very persuasive defense of how we think, even when we don't.

Author Notes

Eyal Winter is professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the world's leading institutions in the academic study of decision making. He served as chairman of the economics department at Hebrew University and was the 2011 recipient of the Humboldt Prize, awarded by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany. He has lectured at over 130 universities in 26 countries around the world, including Harvard University, Stanford University, Princeton University, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Cambridge.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Economist Winter looks at the relationship between emotion and rationality in this study, and if the results do not fully answer the questions he raises, he still gives plentiful insights into the many factors that govern our choices. The book's central thesis is that being emotional and being rational are not the diametrically opposed states people often assume them to be, and that, far from clouding judgment, instinctive feelings play an essential role in guiding it. Winter draws on the classic Prisoner's Dilemma to illustrate this point, applying a mathematical model to the apparently unsystematic process of decision making. Even anger, within this framework, is persuasively shown to have an instructive purpose. Winter struggles, however, to tie all of the examples covered to the central theme of emotion. In particular, an extended passage that examines and questions clichés about gender and sexuality (such as "Men, more than women, seek physically attractive mates" and "Homosexuality provides no evolutionary advantage") wanders far afield from the emotion-reason dichotomy. But even if the book doesn't completely fulfill its goal of collapsing the divide between feelings and reason, we can at least begin, with its help, to reason with our emotions through their inherent foundation of rationality. Agent: Jim Levine, Levine Greenberg Rostan. (Dec.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introduction: What Is Rationality?p. xv
Part I On Anger and Commitment
Chapter 1 What Is the Point of Getting Annoyed? Emotions as a Mechanism for Creating Commitmentsp. 3
Chapter 2 Why We Love Those Who Are Cruel to Us: Stockholm Syndrome and the Story of the Nazi Schoolteacherp. 12
Chapter 3 Emotional Impostors, Empathy, and Uncle Ezra's Poker Facep. 18
Chapter 4 Game Theory, Emotions, and the Golden Rule of Ethicsp. 31
Chapter 5 The Prisoner's Dilemma in Repeated Interactions: Do Drawn Knives Increase Cooperation in the World?p. 38
Chapter 6 On Decency, Insult, and Revenge: Why Don't Suckers Suffer from Disgust?p. 51
Part II On Trust and Generosity
Chapter 7 On Stigmas and Games of Trust: Why Did the Bees Commit Suicide?p. 61
Chapter 8 Self-Fulfilling Mistrustp. 69
Chapter 9 Cultural Differences, Palestinian Generosity, and Ruth's Mysterious Disappearancep. 73
Chapter 10 Collective Emotions and Uncle Walter's Traumap. 87
Chapter 11 The Handicap Principle, the Ten Commandments, and Other Mechanisms for Ensuring Collective Survivalp. 98
Chapter 12 Knowing How to Give, Knowing How to Receive: The Full Half of the Cholentp. 110
Part III On Love and Sexuality
Chapter 13 The Spray That Will Give Us Love: On the Hormone that Creates Trust and Neutralizes Suspicionp. 117
Chapter 14 On Men, Women, and Evolution: Testing the Mythsp. 121
Chapter 15 Make Me a Match Made in Heaven: Reproduction and the Mathematics of Romancep. 145
Chapter 16 From Cavemen Flutes to Bach Fugues: Why Did Evolution Create Art?p. 160
Part IV On Optimism, Pessimism, and Group Behavior
Chapter 17 Why Are We So Negative? The Arithmetic of Emotionsp. 167
Chapter 18 On Arrogance and Humility: The Norwegian Professor's Syndromep. 173
Chapter 19 Overconfidence and Risk: The "It Can't Happen to Me" Syndromep. 178
Chapter 20 The Voice Is Herd: On the Sources of Herd Behaviorp. 189
Chapter 21 Team Spirit: The Paradox of the Generous Bonuses and the Lazy Workersp. 201
Part V On Rationality, Emotions, and Genes
Chapter 22 Irrational Emotionsp. 219
Chapter 23 Nature or Nurture: What Is the Source of Rational Emotions?p. 228
Epiloguep. 233
Notesp. 239
Indexp. 247