Blind to your choices

Updated: Jan 14, 2019

An intriguing characteristic of being human is how we like to be able to explain away our own behaviour and to be overly judgmental of other people’s.

There is a cognitive bias involved here that can neatly be demonstrated by two thought-provoking “choice blindness” experiments.

The first experiment involves having a participant choose between two photographs of female faces according to which one he finds most attractive. Unbeknownst to the participant, the experimenter sneakily swaps them around using a card trick. He then shows the photo that the participant did not choose and asks him why he selected that one. In the majority of cases the participant not only fails to notice that the photo is not the one he chose, but he then goes on to willingly explain why he chose that particular woman over the other one.

A more recent experiment had participants produce a series of arguments in response to reasoning problems. They were then asked to evaluate other people’s responses to the same problem. Again, the sneaky experimenters duped the participant by presenting their own argument back to them. Almost half the respondents failed to notice that they were indeed evaluating their own argument, and even worse, more than half of these actually rejected their own argument as wrong!

Post-hoc justifications

Both of these experiments illustrate how we tend to provide post-hoc justifications of our intuitive choices. This is a major problem when asking a consumer to explain their behaviour. Often we make our consumption choices on a habitual or intuitive basis without much cognitive effort or reasoning. But when we are asked to explain that behaviour, we usually provide a confident answer – even when we are unaware it is wrong.

Be aware of this when asking consumers why they did something or why they think other people behave a certain way. The answer that comes most easily to them may not be the correct one. Sometimes you need to supplement consumer feedback with observation, implicit research methodology or data analysis to get to the real truth.

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