Once you’ve made a choice, you’d stick by it, right? Actually, it’s not that simple, and choice blindness can help us understand why.
Choice blindness is a psychological term to describe a lack of awareness in our decisions.
We will make a choice but then forget about it. Not only that, but we are not aware that our choice has changed, even if it is the opposite of what we’d normally choose.
Johansson and Hall coined the term. They say that not only do we forget what decisions we’ve made, but when presented with an alternative that is far removed from anything we’d normally agree with, we will vehemently argue its validity:
“People …often fail to notice glaring mismatches between their intentions and outcomes, while nevertheless being prepared to offer introspectively derived reasons for why they chose the way they did.”
I don’t know about you, but this seems ridiculous. Surely you’d remember a choice you made? So under what circumstances are we talking about? What time frame for instance and what kind of decisions?
Choice Blindness Studies
Jam and Tea
In the first study (2010), researchers set up a tasting area where shoppers could sample a variety of jams and teas. Shoppers could choose their favourite and then had to give their reasons for each choice.
However, what they didn’t know was that the researchers had swapped the samples for the rejected choices of the shoppers. More to the point, in all cases, the samples were vastly different in taste, for example, cinnamon/apple and bitter grapefruit, or mango and Pernod.
The results showed that under a third of shoppers detected the switch.
Johansson and Hall continued their studies in 2013, this time on facial recognition. Participants were shown two different female faces and asked to choose which one they found most attractive. Without them seeing, the researchers would switch their chosen face for the other one of the pair.
Not only did few participants notice the switch, but surprisingly, this also impacted on their choices further on in the study. In their later decisions, they actually chose the switched face over the one they had originally chosen.
Jam and pretty women are one thing, but can choice blindness affect your political choices?
Polls influence all manner of things, from consumer issues, brands, TV shows to governments and political opinions. Johansson and Hall moved on from jam and faces. They devised a moral statement questionnaire in which participants had to agree or disagree with a number of statements.
The statements were read back to them, however, many were reversed:
- ‘If an action might harm the innocent, then it is not morally permissible to perform it.’
- ‘Even if an action might harm the innocent, it can still be morally permissible to perform it.’
- ‘The violence Israel used in the conflict with Hamas is morally defensible despite the civilian causalities suffered by the Palestinians.’
- ‘The violence Israel used in the conflict with Hamas is morally reprehensible despite the civilian causalities suffered by the Palestinians.’
Researchers asked participants whether they still agreed with their statements.
69% accepted at least one of two reversed statements.
So, it begs the question, why can’t we remember our original decisions in the first place? Moreover, why do we not then recall our original choice when offered something that is the opposite of what we initially chose?
Why Does Choice Blindness Affect Us?
Interest in the subject matter
Researchers believe that it’s the subject matter that is the reason for choice blindness. The more invested and interested we are in something the more we pay attention to it.
I mean, seriously, if you are shopping, in a rush, tasting jam and someone wants to know your opinion about which one tastes better and why, are you really going to put that much effort into it? Who cares!
But I think there are other reasons, not just interest that affect our decisions.
Complex wording of statements
Just look at the wording in the statements. When you read a statement, you can take your time and look closely for errors. But in the study, the statements were read out to the participants.
I’m a writer, I fare much better with written words on paper. However, put me under pressure in an interview situation where complex statements are read to me and it is a different story. I am likely to get muddled up.
There’s another point to make about choice and our blindness when it comes to decisions. We only have enough attention span for a certain number of things. We are bombarded with stimuli every day. As a result, our brains filter out what is not necessary.
This means that there are certain things we don’t notice on a daily basis. For example, the feel of our clothes against our skin, the noise of outside traffic, the washing machine going through its cycles. Our brains have become experts in selecting exactly what is important and what’s not.
This is selective attention and we have to be selective because our attention is a finite resource. It is spread across all our senses and capabilities. This is why, at times, when it doesn’t really matter, we forget certain choices we made because we can easily go back and correct them.
So how can you avoid choice blindness? Don’t let people rush you into making a decision. And more importantly? If someone offers you a free jam sample in the supermarket – don’t fill in a survey afterwards 😉
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