5 Examples of Science Behind Lazy Decision Making

Macleay lecturer Nicole takes us through 5 examples of science behind lazy decision making.


It’s a nice idea to think we are all rational and sensible beings. Making well thought out buying decisions and consumption choices. But the truth is, if you are anything like me, you arrive at the supermarket with the best intentions and leave 20min later with 2 bags of salt and vinegar crisps, chicken nuggets (because your kids hate zoodles) and find yourself rummaging through the shopping to find the Kit Kat that somehow found itself at the bottom, even though it was the last thing you purchased.


It is a good thing we are lazy

Perhaps our biggest flaw, is also our greatest achievement and the reason why we have evolved to create so many magical ways to be efficient and entertain ourselves. Humans are lazy, we like short cuts, we are impulsive and at the end of the day if we are hungry, no amount of good intentions will keep us from reaching out for a sugar hit.

Luckily behavioural scientists and economists have caught onto our love of sweat pants and Netflix, shining a light on what really drives behaviours, to the advantage of marketers. While there is no golden ticket, there’re enough experiments to support the theory.




If we did what we were told, we would probably be happier, but that’s no fun

Traditional economic theory suggests we make the best decisions based on the available information at the time and if we all thought rationally, we would all be better off. But, if that were the case what would be the point of advertising?

Behavioural scientists and economists suggest otherwise. Thinking that perhaps, we are not quite that sophisticated, but slightly better dressed cavemen filled with primal emotions, driven by impulse, lust and hormones, unable to resist temptation. As I bite into my Kit Kat and watch Tiger King…I think it is clear they might be onto something.




Let’s look at some of the evidence…


1# We are less likely to spend money if we receive it in large sums.

Ever wonder why when you are paid weekly, you never have money, but a monthly pay check goes towards all your bills with cash to spare? It is the same amount of money, but our nature is to save larger sums. Unfortunately, it is also in our nature to burn cash on pay day, which is why it is better economic sense for governments to stimulate economies with small and frequent amounts of cash vs. one lump sum.


2# We enjoy our main meal more, if the starter is terrible.

In a rational world, our satisfaction with our meal should remain the same no matter what the order we eat it in. But, if you did start with dessert, you would enjoy the rest of the meal less as the sugar hit would release the pleasure hormones early, resulting in a very high satisfaction starting point. The higher the satisfaction starting point or expectations, the less satisfied you are likely to be with whatever you choose to eat after…even french fries.


3# We are far more influenced by first impressions or breaking news than we should be.

Called the Anchoring effect or Focalism, we tend to use the first piece of information we receive (the anchor) to inform how we view all following information. So, if the breaking news headline is negative…it is likely your view on the topic will be as well. The controversy around vaccinations is the optimal example of this.




4# The more negative you are about your brand, the more people like you

What should be a warning sign, turns out is a signal of trust. We do not trust perfection, we trust brands that admit they are flawed. So, the closer your Uber driver is to 5stars, the more you question what is really wrong with them. Admit you offer terrible service and voila, trust and consumer attraction. So next time you see someone you like, pick a funny reason why they shouldn’t date you as an introduction, you never know, it might work.


5# Puppies and babies sell more stuff

Just in case you were still not convinced. Puppies and babies have been shown to be some of the most effective selling symbols marketers have to play with. Not a tool for everything, but that cute, curious, little head tilt or run and stumble has seen campaigns last decades for everything from toilet paper, to paint, to tyres…and the list goes on.


These are just 5 of 100s of theories, showing how far Behavioural Science has come. From tormenting a baby with rats thanks to J.B. Watson (the father of advertising), to governments building new economic models that take advantage of our laziness and the monitoring of live sensory reactions in the brain (neuromarketing). It is the new foundation for creating connections with your audience and personally I can’t wait to see how we keep evolving what started out as an idea to explain our lazy and poor decision making.




If you would like to learn more, Nicole Battram will be commencing our latest course, BSC305 Behavioural Science, in T2.


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