Why you should judge a book by its cover

By David Joel Miller


Photo courtesy of Flickr

Ever heard the old saw “Never judge a book by its cover? Turns out that most of the time we should be judging books by their covers.

Let’s start by considering two literal books, both presumably about economics and how to respond to economic problems.

Book one is titled “How to make money in a bad economy.” The author’s name is “A working girl” and the cover depicts an attractive woman in a negligee holding a large fanned wad of cash.

Book two is titled “The history of recessions, depressions, panics and commercial revulsion’s in the United States from 1640 to 2008, including the role of government’ policy in precipitating financial collapses.”  This second book is written by a well-known economist from a prestige eastern school. It comes with a very plain cover with the title, author’s name and credentials and not much else.

Which book should you pick? Do you really need to open the book and read the first few chapters to figure this one out?

If you wanted a steamy sex book, by all means, pick the first book. But if you are trying to figure out a way to plan your financial future you might be better off with book two.

Turns out that there are plenty of times when we should, in fact, judge a book and a whole lot of other things by their cover, so to speak.

You don’t always get the chance to think it over.

Humans are inherently cognitive misers. We only have so much brain space and if we squander that capacity thinking over things that do not require careful thought we will have nothing left to think about trivial things like what to eat and where to live. Think too much about every decision and you will have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

Now it is possible that these titles are misleading and that one or both do not live up to the promise made by the cover. If you really want to be sure you might open the book and read the first page or two but by then you should have figured out if this is the book for you.

Turns out that there are a lot of other life decisions where first impression is the right one.

Yes first impressions can be wrong, but most of the time we form those first impressions based on past experiences and as a result we find it easy to make choices that have a high probability of pleasing us.

Too much time spent thinking things over and checking every possibility to avoid a mistake can result in paralysis and indecision.

One other factor to consider is the costs of either failing to make a decision or making a bad decision.

If you are a college professor who teaches economics, you may well go ahead and buy both. Spending more money may be within your budget. But if you are having trouble paying you bills you may read a few pages of both and then decide to pass on both.

This does not negate the principal that some times there are plenty good reasons to judge a book by its cover.

One last thought. In doing that judging you need to look at what the thing is, not how it looks. I have bought a lot of used books in my time. Some had torn or dirty covers some had no dust jacket at all. Still I could generally tell from the apparent characteristics, the title, the author and so on, whether this book had merit.

I think this value of judging books by their cover apples to a lot of other life decisions.

But what about judging people by their looks. By this I do not mean race, but their dress and self care. Should you judge a person by their outward appearance?

More on the pros and cons of judging by appearance and why we are all likely to do things that way when we are unsure will be coming up in a future post on counselors soapbox.com.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


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