Jason Zweig's latest book, Your Money and Your Brain, looks at how the brain responds when making real-life financial decisions. In an interview that appeared on Morningstar.com last week, Zweig, who writes The Intelligent Investor for The Wall Street Journal, shared some tips for overcoming your brain's worst impulses. In part two of that interview, he shares some wisdom for making good decisions during times of financial crisis.
Christine Benz: How has the recent bear market corroborated some of the findings in your book? Or not?
Jason Zweig: Let's think back to October or November of last year or March of this year, when the Dow seemed to be headed toward 6,000, and people were just terrified. There's no doubt that millions of investors, both retail and professional alike, were acting out of sheer uncontrolled fear. And the level of stress that investors felt was unbelievable. And when people are afraid, and when you're feeling stress, not stress in the pop psychology sense but stress in the physiological sense, when your blood pressure goes up, you're sweating, your heart is racing, your hands are shaking, you can't sleep, and you're on the verge of depression, and you're snapping at your family and kicking your dog, people make bad decisions. And they make impulsive decisions, they make big decisions when they should be making small ones. Instead of making incremental adjustments to portfolios, instead of rebalancing at the margin, people bailed out of asset classes entirely or just moved completely into cash. The other thing that neuroeconomics suggests goes on in people's minds in a time of market panic is the automatic perception of illusory patterns--detecting "trends" in random data that simply are not there. Things that seem to be predictable loom much more important in people's minds. People develop a belief that the future is more knowable. That's stronger in a time of extreme uncertainty.