How Does Comparison Affect Our Decision Making?

Everything is relative, and Einstein was not the only scientist who suggested that! In his book “Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion” Dr. Cialdini tells of a common practice performed in human psychology courses. Students are asked to put their left hand in a bucket full of iced water, and their right hand in a bucket full of hot water. After a minute, they are asked to put both hands in a third bucket kept at room temperature. As a result students feel that their left hand is very hot, and their right hand is very cold, while logically they understand that the temperature of the water in the middle bucket is the same.

What does this experiment tells us? Often times we can perceive some information as accurate, while in actuality it is affected by our subjective experience. This characteristic is often used by marketers and sales people to influence our decision making process. Dr. Cialdini provides another example of a Real Estate agent, who would intentionally show a couple of overpriced and ran down properties to his clients, before introducing them to the property that he actually intended to sell. As the result clients felt that they were getting a good deal, and were more likely to buy.

Additionally Dr. Cialdini suggests that our love relationships could also be affected by comparison:

…studies done on the contrast principle at Arizona State and Montana State universities suggest that we may be less satisfied with the physical attractiveness of our own lovers because of the way the popular media bombard us with examples of unrealistically attractive models. In one study college students rated a picture of an average looking member of the opposite sex as less attractive if they had first looked through the ads in some popular magazines. In another study, male college-dormitory residents rated the photo of a potential blind date. Those who did so while watching an episode of the Charlie’s Angels TV series viewed the blind date as a less attractive woman than those who rated her while watching a different show. Apparently it was the uncommon beauty of the Angels female stars that made the blind date seems less attractive… (Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, p9)

So what is the moral of the story? I would say, be careful with what you put in your brain. What do you think? Care to comment?

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  1. G. I. J. says

    interesting. i’ve heard that porn also makes you get an idea about how sex really is, even though it isn’t.(this has broken relationships).

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