We all like to think we are in control of our decisions, but these are often influenced by many factors around us, leading our thought processes in one direction.

What is distinction bias?

Distinction bias is the influence of making a choice when presented with two similar options side by side simultaneously. This is a tactic often used by retailers, who display a system of ‘good, better and best’ products alongside each other.

It may be that the best product is manufactured to the same standard and performs the same as the good product. However, the price differential creates a perception of quality and drives the customer to buy the more expensive item.

This applies to many scenarios where your own instinctive choice is interrupted by a comparable which makes you reconsider.

How does it affect relationships?

If you find someone really attractive and enjoy spending time with them, it would be natural to consider taking things further. You aren’t presented with a raft of options to compare against one another. You are guided by your feelings, emotions and instinct.

However, if they are introduced next to their twin who is slightly taller and perhaps better dressed, would you still proceed with your intuitive response to get to know your initial crush? Or, would you subconsciously start comparing them with another person simply because they are standing next to each other?

Can it change the way we treat people?

It most certainly can, and does. A great example is that of behavior comparisons. This happens most around people you know well, such as your child or your spouse. You have a preconceived idea about their personality, and how they behave. This means that when something out of the ordinary happens, you immediately start comparing their actions or words with their everyday persona.

Examples of distinction bias in real life

Situations which you would consider perfectly acceptable in anybody else become the kindle for an argument. For example, you have spent a lot of time choosing your child’s party fancy dress outfit and think they look fabulous. You take lots of pictures and are really proud. Then you take them to a party, and some of the other kids have outfits much more elaborate than yours. Are you suddenly feeling a little inadequate, or that you should have made more effort?

Why? Five minutes ago you were glowing with pride!

The same can apply to working alongside a spouse. In their everyday life, they are friendly, amiable and easy-going. When you work together on a project, you find them bossy, loud and controlling. In actuality, any other professional leading a project in the same way would be fine with you. However, because it is your spouse, and you are now seeing them contrasted with their persona at home, you find it irksome and annoying.

Why? They’re a great professional doing their job!

Can we avoid being influenced by distinction bias?

Yes, we can – being aware that it exists, and that we are all susceptible to being influenced is important in so many ways. The old cliché of the grass being greener on the other side rings true. However, it is human nature to analyze our choices more carefully when we have another, perhaps ‘better’ option available, which might negate our happiness with our gut instinct.

Often, taking a step back from making a decision and being able to rationalize and think about the choices we make – or are about to make – is a great way to avoid making a poor choice without having really understood why.

If you are buying something and have set yourself a budget, try to remember that. Don’t be driven by the glossy packaging of a product which is marketed in a way to influence you to spend more money than you need to.

Where does distinction bias most affect us?

One of the biggest places within modern life where distinction bias causes negative effects is social media. Every platform presents the user with multiple images, people and products all displayed side by side.

This scenario creates a situation where we are constantly making comparisons and scrutinizing which person, or which product, is ‘the best’. This culture of comparison leads to toxic emotions such as jealousy, resentment, and lack of self-worth.

Remember that social media is a place where every person and company showcase the very best of themselves. Individual images or captions are highly unlikely to be indicative of daily life.

There is a growing movement to be more conscious of the alternate reality which is presented online. Particularly where influencers or celebrities target adverts manipulating the fears of groups of people, there is new legislation being introduced to regulate this. It can be all too easy for a young impressionable person to feel bombarded with pictures of beautiful, slim strangers. They might feel that they look differently and become convinced that they are not worth as much.

In this situation, it is extremely powerful to remember that this is another symptom of distinction bias. There is absolutely no need to compare your visual identity to that of anybody else. Looking at each part of your life in direct comparison with others is not a healthy way to make life choices.

How can we live our lives free of cognitive bias?

In reality, it is probably impossible to never allow any outside influence to impact our way of thinking. Salespeople love to think they ‘can’t be sold to’, but we all respond to factors in a human way.

Being mindful of your thoughts, how much pressure you put on yourself to make a decision, and analyzing why you are making a choice are all simple ways to keep on track. Being accountable for your decisions, particularly organizational or financial ones that impact your family, can help you to rationalize your actions and keep your focus on what you set out to achieve without deviating.

References:

  1. Psychology Today
  2. Research Gate

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