Expensive wine does taste better.

Expensive wine does taste better.

When wine lovers drink wine they believe to be expensive, blood oxygen increases in the area of the brain concerned with feeling pleasure. This was shown in research by Plassman et al in 2008. The wine actually tastes better to them just because they think it is expensive and therefore believe it is good quality.

How often have you heard the old adage, “You get what you pay for”? It is ingrained into us, as we grow up, that more expensive products are better quality.

Of course, you know that that is not always the case. I’m sure you can think of many instances when you bought something expensive that broke, or something cheap which went on and on and on. However, if you are trying to choose between two similar products, you are likely to assume that the more expensive one will be better.

It is generally when we do not have the expert knowledge required to assess quality properly that we fall back on the price to inform us. However, it is not always as clear cut that more expensive is perceived as better. Your state of mind can change that. For example, if you have just spent time tackling your struggling finances, then cheaper is more likely to be seen as good value. If you have just spent time trying to fix a broken item and are now buying a replacement, you are more likely to think of cheaper as lower quality.

All other things being equal though, we equate price with quality, even though this is often not the case. Take medicine, for example. This is an area where people will pay more for quality. People will pay far more for big name brands, assuming them to be of superior quality. As I write this Tesco sells packs of 16 Nurofen 200mg tablets for £1.90. They obviously sell enough that Nurofen continues to make a profit on them. However, a pack of 16 tablets of Tesco’s own brand of ibuprofen costs only £0.35!

There is no doubt that Nurofen’s big brand name has an impact, but many people assume that because Nurofen costs so much more it must be that much better. However, both Nurofen’s and Tesco’s tablets each have 200mg of the active ingredient. There is no good reason to believe that the Nurofen brand works better.

Actually, I should revise that. There is one very good reason Nurofen may work better and faster than a supermarket’s own cheap brand: your belief that it will.

 

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

Just the thought of money makes us unsociable

Just the thought of money makes us unsociable

Money makes us unsociable

Just the thought of money makes us more insular, more unsociable, and makes us want to be more independent.

Kathleen Vohs et al conducted various experiments to study the way people’s behaviour changes when they have money on their minds. One of my favourites had participants fill out a form in a small room. They “happened” to be filling out the form on a desk in front of a computer monitor which, in some cases, had a screensaver of a floating dollar bill. After the form was finished the experimenter said they had to go and fetch something, and whilst they did that would the participant please set up two chairs for a face to face meeting.

The distance between the chairs, as set out by the participant, was then measured. Those who had filled in the form with a neutral screensaver set them up an average of 80 cm apart. Those who had a dollar bill screensaver in their peripheral vision set them an average of 120 cm apart.

Just having money in the back of their minds (as primed by the dollar bill screensaver) made people set up the chairs 50% farther apart than otherwise. This was a result of them feeling more independent and insular.

 

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

You are hopeless at noticing change.

You are hopeless at noticing change.

You are hopeless at noticing change

In 1998 Simons and Levin performed an experiment to show just how bad people are at noticing change. A person with a map would approach someone, acting lost, and ask them how to get to somewhere. Whilst that person (an inadvertent participant in the experiment) tried to describe the route a couple of people barged through holding a door.

With well practised choreography the person who had asked directions switched places with one of the door carriers, who then pretended to be the person who had asked questions. The inadvertent participant would continue giving directions, and 50% of the time did not notice that the other person had changed.

This experiment demonstrated outside of the lab something that had been shown just in laboratory conditions before – the fact that we are all hopeless at noticing change. It seems preposterous that we would not notice something major changing from one second to the next, right in front of us. Actually, though, it makes perfect sense.

Look around you now and see just how much there is to notice. Imagine how much brain power it would take to actually memorise all of your surroundings, because of course to notice something has changed you first have to remember what it was before. It would take an unfeasible amount of brain storage to remember just one snapshot of our surroundings, let alone every second of every hour of every day. And what would be the purpose of remembering what is right in front of us? To know what is there we only have to look.

It would make no sense at all to remember everything we perceive from one second to the next. So we don’t. And so we often don’t realise when something has changed. And we don’t remember what passers-by look like. And we make hopeless eyewitnesses.

 

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

“I wish they would just get on with Brexit”: an example of the sunk cost fallacy?

“I wish they would just get on with Brexit”: an example of the sunk cost fallacy?

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a little thing called Brexit being discussed a bit these days.

I have heard several politicians claiming that people tell them they wish the politicians would just get on with it. It is suggested that now we have come this far down the path, we might as well carry on and get it over with.

This strikes me as being similar to the sunk cost fallacy.

The sunk cost fallacy is the feeling we get that, as we have invested this much money (or time, or resources) into something, that money would be wasted if we changed our minds now. It is a fallacy because that money is gone already. Any decision made now must be made on the basis of the cost against benefit based on the resources available now. What has been spent (or squandered) before now should have no bearing at all. Everything should be based on predictions for the future from where we are today.

Imagine you spent £200 on concert tickets and then lost them. The tendency is to think that, if you bought replacements for another £200, you would have spent £400 on the tickets and that is too high a price. But you wouldn’t have. That initial £200 is gone. It is money you have already lost, regardless of whether you buy replacements or not. The only relevant question is, “Based on what you have in the bank right now, do you want to spend £200 of that on tickets to the concert?”

We are just a few months from pulling out of Europe, with no deal in place despite two years of negotiations. To say “We have gone through 2 years of uncertainty and in-fighting already. We might as well just get it over with, rather than prolong it even more,” is just like saying, “I’ve already spent £200. I might as well just accept the loss and not go to the gig, rather than make it £400.”

The pain of the last 2 years should not have any bearing on whether things are prolonged, potentially with another referendum. The question should simply be: based on where we are now, and what we know now, would it be better just to check that this is really what the majority of people in the UK really want?

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

Every memory is a shabby reconstruction.

Every memory is a shabby reconstruction.

Every memory is a shabby reconstruction.

Think back to an event in your past. A birthday, a night out, a chance meeting. Bring back that memory. It may seem to you that the memory comes to you whole, but it doesn’t. It is merely a flawed reconstruction.

Every time we dredge up a memory we are actually putting it together again like a jigsaw. Some of the pieces are objectively accurate parts from the scene, but much of it is filler. We remember the gist, but most of the details are just made up to fill in the blanks.

And what we use to fill in the blanks is a schema for the situation – a mental representation of what we would typically expect in such a context.

Brewer and Treyens, in 1981, asked students to wait in a particular room for a few minutes before calling them through to take part in an experiment. The room appeared to be a fairly typical office, and the participants were asked afterwards to recall as much as they could about it. They did not know they were going to have to recall what was in the room, so they hadn’t made any effort to memorise it. However, it was clearly an office and so their “office schema” helped them out by telling them what was probably in there. They therefore “remembered” (actually believing they had seen them) items one would find in an average office, even though they had not been present in this case.

When you reconstruct a memory (which is every time you bring something from the past to mind), you are unaware of fact that you are filling in the blanks. The danger is that something which is added may well become a permanent fixture in your memory, and you have no way of knowing that it was never really there.

 

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

Marketers love you to compare.

Marketers love you to compare.

Marketers love you to compare.

Imagine you have invented a new gadget and put it into the shops at $279. As it is a completely new product, there is nothing to compare it with. How can anyone judge whether that is a good price or not? The answer is, they cannot.

This is the problem Williams-Sonoma had when they produced a bread maker and tried to sell it for $279. It wasn’t selling well because people couldn’t tell if that was a good price or not. To solve this problem the company introduced another bread maker. This one had more controls and could do a little more, but was priced much higher at $429. Now people had something with which to compare. The first bread maker was $150 cheaper. Sure, it wasn’t quite as flashy, but it made bread. $279 now seemed like a good price and the product started selling much better.

Imagine now that you are in a restaurant and you see the lobster thermidor, their flagship dish, costs $120. You may rule that out straight away as far too expensive. You then see their fillet steak is $60. That is far cheaper and you may be tempted to choose that. Perhaps, if you had not seen how expensive the lobster was, you may have considered $60 to be too steep for a cut of beef.

You are powerless against your minds determination to compare. The menu has set an anchor of $120 for the lobster, and against that the beef, which actually is still expensive, appears good value.

 

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

You just cannot help comparing.

You just cannot help comparing.

You just cannot help comparing.

If you want to judge a quality such as its attractiveness, the only way to do it is by comparison. You find something similar and decide which is the most attractive. Unless you have a clear-cut, objective way of measuring what you have to judge, you simply have to seek out something with which to compare that which you are valuing.

Kenrick and Gutierres asked male college students to rate the photographs of a bunch of potential dates. Some of them were asked to do this just before watching an episode of Charlie’s Angels, and some were asked just after watching it. Those men who had not just watched Farrah Fawcett and Jacklyn Smith running around after a load of baddies rated the potential dates pretty much as any other men would.

However, those who had just watched those beautiful crime fighters with their perfect faces and immaculate hair now had higher standards. They couldn’t help but compare these new photos with the goddesses they had just been drooling over. The potential dates were therefore rated as much less attractive.

In the past we were not exposed to many different people. Hundreds of years ago, a person would only meet the few potential mates in his own or neighbouring villages. Even a hundred years ago people would only see their few acquaintances plus a few grainy photos in newspapers and magazines. Then along came TV and we were exposed to many more beauties, beginning to distort our view of how attractive the average person is. And then came airbrushing, and the internet. Now everywhere we look we are exposed to impossible perfection. We may no longer be happy with what we have because our view of average has been skewed by this exposure.

 

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

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