We prefer to stay consistent with our choices
Usually, inconsistency is considered an undesirable trait. Being inconsistent seems to be irrational and sometimes even crazy. But the principle is so ingrained in our subconscious that sometimes we don’t observe how others may use it to our disadvantage.
Let’s say you would like to increase the amount of donations in your area to a cancer research organisation. Psychologist Steven J. Sherman, has an interesting approach for you. He called a sample of Bloomington, Indiana, residents as a part of a survey he was taking and asked them to “predict” how many of them would donate for the American Cancer Society. Many of them said they would.
The result? 700% increase in volunteers when, a few days later, a representative of the American Cancer Society did call and ask for donations. The same principle is often applied in presidential elections.
This is also why people prefer to buy all the products from a specific brand only. For example, a person with a Samsung phone is more likely to buy a watch or laptop from Samsung if he/she already has a product from them. But, this happens only if the person was satisfied with the initial purchase.
Context is more important than content
Let’s say you go to a small supermarket which specializes in “go-to” items. One in which you can buy only the necessary products with small amount of choice and have fast or self-checkout lanes. And you want to buy a jam but you are also in a rush. In that context, showing a person 27 types of jams is only going to confuse and frustrate him. And will indulge that person to grab something and leave the store, because time is precious to him. Or as otherwise known, the cognitive bias of choice overload.
Choice overload is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options.
In that case, the best approach would be to show only one or two types of jam. Why not more? Because the context is — a small supermarket with only basic products.
On the other hand, if that person drives to a market called The Jam World, with manufacturers coming all over the world presenting hundreds of different products, he won’t complain about the choice overload. He would rather enjoy the process of going to all manufacturers and taste which one is better. And then make a choice. Context is more important than content.
Generalising information issues
Hans Rosling writes about the problem of generalising data in Factfullness. He gave an example how during the Second World War and the Korean War, doctors and nurses discovered that unconscious wounded soldiers from the battlefields survived more often if they were laid on their fronts rather than on their backs. On their backs, they often suffocated on their own vomit. This observation saved many millions of lives, not just soldiers. The recovery position has since become a global best practice.
Often a new discovery can be easily generalised too far. In the 1960s the success of the recovery position inspired public health advice to put babies to sleep on their tummies. The problem of generalisation like this is often difficult to spot. But the logic seems correct.
And sometimes it becomes hard to spot the flaws of such an approach. Even though the data showed that sudden infant deaths went up, not down. It wasn’t until 1985 that a group of paediatricians in Hong Kong suggested that the prone position might be the cause.