This was the focus of Gladwell’s popular book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.And a study reported in the Wall Street Journal last week supports this view. College students instructed to make a detail-focused decision chose a better used car more often than those who were told to focus on how they felt about the car.
But only to a point. As the number of options and features they were given increased, the ones considering the details (12 categories) reached the best decision 25% of the time, while those who were reacting based on feelings made the right choice 70% of the time. (There was only one ideal car in the list.)
Remember this when you go to the store and chose from a dozen kinds of Cheerios. We are literally overwhelmed with choices. As author Jonah Lehrer puts it:
Instead of simply buying a product, we now have to assess a multitude of alternatives, brands and price points. Do I want slim fit or slim bootcut? Should I get the organic eggs or the cage-free eggs or the eggs fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids? Even the purchase of floss can set our teeth on edge.
He says our subconscious analyzes this data much faster than our conscious mind. The same study showed the “emotional brain” made better choices about picking apartments or vacation spots too.
But maybe not. At least not in this economy, where the evidence that price point is becoming the overriding factor in purchasing decisions is more and more apparent. The Journal reports more people shop with a list (75%) than did just three years ago (45%.)
And according to Wall-Mart CEO Mike Duke, pay-check cycle shopping is more pronounced. The article says shoppers “have been whipped into a permanent state of consumer caution. They buy only what they need, avoid premium labels, clip coupons and scour sales.”
People are even cutting back on things they do need. Diaper sales have been dropping about 1% a week for the month, while sales for sales of diaper rash ointments is up 8% over last year. Are these decisions based on logic? Or just an economic fear, an emotional response?
Shopping with lists may indicate the former and diapering a kid six times a day costs about $1500 a year. Chronic unemployment and other hardships are forcing touch choices. But you would hope letting a baby sit in a dirty diaper was an unconscious, not a conscious decision. I doubt any one says “let’s just not change the baby’s diaper tonight.”
Even young middle class couples, saddled with college debt, are struggling with choices like these. Buying disposable diapers is not the toughest decision people face in this economy, of course. But either price, budgets and lists have trumped our “emotional brain.” Or our gut feelings can just be wrong. The subconscious can make mistakes too.
If you are unemployed, organic or cage free is no choice. But if you are afraid of being unemployed, you may pick up the warehoused chicken eggs on purpose.
Or without thinking about it at all.
How is the economy influencing your choices, consciously or subconsciously?