Posted by: Tony Carson | 22 July, 2007

Screwed by our own biases.

We are constantly screwing ourselves and we don’t even know it.

Of the 30 or so behaviour biases we tote around with us all day, at least 8 of them reinforce information we want to believe:

Bias blind spot — the tendency not to compensate for one’s own cognitive biases.
Choice-supportive bias — the tendency to remember one’s choices as better than they actually were.
Confirmation bias — the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
Framing by using a too narrow approach or description of the situation or issue.
Mere exposure effect — the tendency for people to express undue liking for things merely because they are familiar with them.
Post-purchase rationalization — the tendency to persuade oneself through rational argument that a purchase was a good value.
Selective perception — the tendency for expectations to affect perception.
Status quo bias — the tendency for people to like things to stay relatively the same.

I lived in Australia for a year where I was told by many that their country was “the land of the long-weekend.” Turns out they had been fed “a bill of goods.” Oz has 3 less statutory holiday than Canada where people are under the bitter impression that most of the world is getting a better deal than we are.

Advertisers and marketers know all about our built-in biases and exploit them to have us convince ourselves that we are getting more than we actual are.

The tech industry is the master of this shell game. Some examples:

• The cell phones industry in North America was promoting all kinds of tiny improvements to the basic phone call while in Europe and Japan cell phones were text messaging and ordering cokes way before most of us had ever heard of the possibility.

• We order broadband to replace our dial-up and marvel at the speed improvement, unaware that the Japanese routinely have speeds many tens of times faster than we do. Personally, I once was paying for a ‘high-speed’ line that couldn’t play a youTube!

Timothy Karr in an article at Huffington Post entitled Open Access is the Real ‘Revolution.’ The iPhone is Nothing Without It. points to another example:

The slick ads for Apple’s “revolutionary” new iPhone promise to “put the Internet in your pocket.” But the only way to get one of these gadgets is to sign on with AT&T — which limits what you can do and where you can go on the wireless Web.

You don’t have to own an iPhone to know why this problem persists: The big mobile phone companies lock their devices so they won’t work on other networks, cripple innovative new applications, stifle competition and restrict access to their “preferred” content.

In effect, we shop around, look for the best ‘deal’ we can find and are happy with it, until guys like Kerr point out that in fact, we’re getting screwed.

Think about it. The cable company doesn’t tell you what kind of TV to buy. You can plug any toaster into the wall at home without the power company’s permission. Whether you have a PC or Mac, you still can go wherever you want on the Web. Why shouldn’t your mobile phone work the same way?

But we don’t think about it. We believe. All our built-in biases insist on it. Merrily, we keep on screwing ourselves, over and over and over again. It’s just us. No one ever bad-mouthed his new car.


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