Evidence for the success of this strategy has been found outside the domain of advertising as well. Consider an example of its use in law: in a study conducted by behavioural scientist Kip Williams and colleagues, when jurors heard a lawyer mention a weakness in his own case before the opposing attorney mentioned it, they rated him as more trustworthy and were more favourable to his overall case in their verdicts because of that perceived honesty. Additionally, anyone who is considering a career change may be interested to learn that a recruitment study found that applicants whose curriculum vitae contained only wholly positive references were invited to fewer interviews than those whose curriculum vitae first highlighted a weakness or slight limitation before going on to describe positive characteristics.
We found that over the next several weeks, those who had been consuming more energy than their neighbours reduced their energy consumption, by 5.7 per cent. Not much of a surprise there. More interesting, however, was the finding that those who had been consuming less energy than their neighbours actually increased their energy consumption by 88.6 per cent. These results show that what most others are doing acts as something of a “magnetic middle”, meaning that people who deviate from the average tend to be drawn towards it – they change their actions to be more in line with the norm regardless of whether they were previously behaving in a socially desirable or undesirable way.
Research scientists Christopher Hsee and Yuval Rottenstreich have asserted that people’s judgement and decision-making abilities can be impaired by an event such as the SARS outbreak, not because it induces negative feelings, but rather because it is an emotionally charged issue, regardless of the nature of the feelings it produces. Specifically, they argue that emotions lead people to become less sensitive to differences in the magnitude of numbers; they’re more likely to pay attention to the simple presence or absence of an event. In business terms, what this means is that people are more likely to pay attention to the simple presence or absence of an emotion-laden offer than to the specific numbers involved.
To test this idea, the researchers asked participants to spend a brief period of time thinking about some issues either emotionally or non-emotionally. Shortly afterwards, these research subjects were told to imagine that someone they knew was selling a set of Madonna CDs. Half of them were told that there were five CDs in the bundle, whereas the other half were told that there were ten. Participants were then asked to report the maximum amount they’d be willing to pay for the bundle.
The researchers found that those who had earlier practised thinking in an unemotional manner were willing to pay more for the set of ten CDs than for the set of five, which is quite rational. More interestingly, however, those who had earlier practised thinking in an emotional manner were less sensitive to the difference in the number of CDs, reporting that they would pay roughly the same for each set.
The results of this research suggest that emotional experience can have a detrimental impact on decision-making, perhaps allowing you to be persuaded by an offer when you shouldn’t be.