Monday, September 9, 2019

Cognitive Distortions & Marketing



I think everyone should learn about the most common cognitive distortions (or thinking errors) as we are all subject to them. Importantly, I have increasingly witnessed political campaigns playing to many of these errors to achieve their intended ends. I believe this is highly unethical. But understanding what these errors are will help you understand how people (including you) can be and are being manipulated. And, as I am sure you know, politicians aren't the only ones playing to these errors. Anyone who is trying to sell you something has a tendency to do this if he or she knows about these errors and is less than completely ethical.

Here are some of the most common errors:

  • Anchoring bias - you are over reliant on the first piece of information that you see or on the first belief to which you were exposed
  • Conservatism bias - you tend to favor prior evidence or thinking over new evidence or thinking, causing you to be slow to change
  • Confirmation bias - only seeing those things that confirm your preconceived notions, including any prejudices or other biases 
  • Choice-supportive bias - when you have chosen something, you tend to feel more positive about that thing
  • Dunning-Kruger effect - people of low ability have illusionary superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability to be greater than it is
  • Overconfidence - this is a variation of the Dunning-Kruger effect that might appear in people of any cognitive ability level
  • Availability heuristic - you overestimate the importance of the information that is available to you over other information that is not
  • Filtering (or selective perception) - seeing only what you want to see while filtering out the rest
  • Clustering illusion - seeing what you want to see in random patterns or events
  • Polarized (or black & white) thinking - if it is not this, then it must be that - there is no room for gray areas, complexity or nuance
  • Negative bias - you tend to believe in and respond more to the negative than the positive, related to this, you act more out of fear than hope or vision
  • Overgeneralization - making generalized conclusions based on one or a very few data points
  • Jumping to conclusions - making a snap judgement before all of the facts are in - deciding on the outcome prior to the analysis
  • Magnifying or minimizing the scale of an event or problem - blowing it out of proportion or significantly downplaying it
  • Oversimplifying - taking something complex and simplifying it to the degree that it cannot be properly understood or addressed
  • Bandwagon effect - this is a form of groupthink in which you are more confident in a position that a large number of people seem to share
  • Fundamental attribution error - you overemphasize your personal uniqueness
  • Always being right - assuming that you are always right and that anyone who disagrees with you must be wrong
  • Projection bias - you think people think like you, agree with you and support your point of view whether they do or not
  • Labeling - you might label something to make it look bad, argue against it or lump it with others in a larger group - you might also mislabel something
  • Emotional reasoning - making decisions based on how you feel rather than objective reality
  • Personalizing - taking everything personally, holding yourself personally responsible for something that was not completely within your control
  • Blaming - this is the opposite of personalizing - with this error, you do not take personal responsibility; rather you point the finger at others
  • Fallacy of change - thinking that others need to change for you to be happy
  • Confusing correlation with causation - just because two things appear to be correlated does not mean that one caused the other
  • Framing effect - you accept or reject something based on how it was framed
  • Context effect - for instance, luxury items only advertised in upscale magazines and sold in upscale retail outlets are perceived to be of higher quality
  • Taking something out of context - without context, something might be interpreted completely differently
  • Observing just a portion of the whole - you might observe data points that contradict the general trend, for instance, if you choose a different shorter or more limited timeframe
  • Placebo effect - believing that something will have a specific effect often causes it to have that effect
  • Authority bias - you tend to follow people in authority rather than your own conscience - you chose authority over your own decisions
  • Illusory truth effect (or reiteration effect) - the more something is repeated, the more you think it is true even if it isn't
  • Scarcity effect - the more scarce you think something is, the more you want it - this applies to exclusivity
  • Recency - tending to weigh the more recent information more heavily
  • Zero-risk (or loss aversion) bias - you would rather avoid any risk even if slight risk would result in a large reward
  • Pro-innovation bias - getting overly excited about anything new
  • Action bias - you prefer action over anything else even if the action is ill-conceived and dangerous or dysfunctional
  • Decoy effect - often marketers feature one or more items at a very high price (or a much poorer value) to make the other higher priced (or better value) items seem more reasonable
  • The choice paradox - the more choices you have the more anxious you feel


I could provide an example of how each of these cognitive errors was used in sales, marketing, persuasion or manipulation, but I will provide just five examples and leave it to you to think about how the others can be and are being used in this way.
  • Emotional reasoning - consider pharmaceutical advertisements in which there is an emotionally appealing scene of two lovers strolling through a field of wildflowers while the company is quickly mentioning the possible negative side effects of the drug
  • Labeling - consider the way our current US president labels his enemies as a way to make them seem less desirable 
  • Framing effect - this is what almost every public relations firm specializes in - marketing copywriters are also expert at this
  • Decoy effect - this is why many realtors show house hunters the highest priced, poorest value house first
  • Scarcity (or exclusivity) effect (and context effect) - this explains while luxury brands such as Vilebrequin limit their distribution to only a small number of upscale shopping centers in carefully targeted upscale markets

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