Go with your gut?

Some recent research has focused on how decisions we make intuitively turn out to be as good as or even better than ones we make rationally.

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?

8 thoughts on “Go with your gut?”

  1. I’d like to think that the drop in diaper sales represents people switching to cloth diapers instead of disposables. That’s what my wife and I decided to do as a way to save money (and be a little “greener”).

    1. I would certainly be in favor of this. It’s a choice we made, and out daughter in law made. But this was a 4% drop in one month, so I don’t think it accounts for all of it.

  2. When I second-guess myself I usually end up regretting it, which reinforces the idea that our initial gut feelings are usually right on target. That said, I don’t think it gives us license to not be thoughtful in our choices. It just means I should trust my instinct once I’ve gathered the information I need and considered the options.

    Weighing in on the disposable diaper issue… The statistics do make it sound like parents are choosing (voluntarily or not) to change diapers less often, and are dealing with the consequences of that “rash” decision (sorry, couldn’t help myself). I would hope more are simply choosing cloth like one of the other commenters mentioned. Cloth diapers make sense both economically and ecologically, and they win hands down on the comfort factor. BUT we ended up using disposable with one child simply because we didn’t have a washer and dryer at the time so it just wouldn’t have been practical to use cloth.

  3. i’d also chime in and say i’d like to think the diaper drop in sales is due to switching to cloth. nowadays the pressure on parents to cloth diaper is growing. perhaps the rise in diaper cream is due to people washing cloth diapers with the wrong type of soap and the poor baby is getting diaper rashes. happens all the time. or maybe the percentage was in the dollar amount rather than physical amount of diapers, meaning parents were shopping smarter using sales, coupons, or cheaper brands instead of paying extra for a name.

    it’s heartening to think people are becoming smarter shoppers. hopefully brand names will take note.

  4. Does WordPress still permit re-blogging? Why there isn’t any ‘re-blog’ option after clicking the Like button?
    I think this is an interesting article :).

    Agree with Mrs. Bob on the disposable diapers and the rash cream; more people maybe are changing to cloth diapers.

    1. hanna— I think wordpress is reworking this option and its not available right now. they do have a browser tool called Press This that allows you to share posts.

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