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How Clients Think: The Brains Behind Decision Making, Part 1

To make their work more effective and efficient, lawyers require some basic understanding of why their clients make the decisions they do and how to better respond and help. There is no need to become a neuroscientist, but some knowledge of this discipline is desirable. Also, we at least can explore some of the factors that drive the decision-making process in broad terms, emphasizing the cognitive aspects but also delving into economic principles and behavioral psychology. This series of blog posts may help in guiding a client before, during and after a mediation.

Principles of economics come into play in what is known as utility theory. Premised on the assumption that people behave rationally in decision making, utility theory assumes that people collect lots of information, examine a wide variety of alternatives, and then make decisions that maximize their personal satisfaction.

However, Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon contends, people are cognitively limited and do not make decisions rationally in accordance with predictable economic models. People are not as comprehensive in their information gathering and analysis as economists would assume. “Humans satisfice, rather than optimize”, meaning we search for alternatives only until we find a solution acceptable to us, whether the solution is optimal or not.  This evokes the need to study principles of cognition and behavioral psychology to gain more insight into the human decision-making process.

Next: About neuroscience and decision making. To download Michelle Jernigan's white paper,  from which this blog series is excerpted, click here.


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