The Psychology of Choice

As it turns out, science has proven that, when a commercial or magazine says that something is “trending”, that actually does mean something in a measurable sociological sense. According to a book entitled “Philosophy and Psychology”, humans are very much influenced by what other people around them are wearing, doing, buying, saying, and eating.

If all of our social choices were genuinely authentic, then every person on the planet would look very different, the reason for this being that people would then be exuding their own personal interests and personalities in the clothes that they wear and the choices that they make. However, humankind seems to mimic itself, each small piece in the puzzle living in fear of being perceived as different.


If you were to look at pictures of people from the seventies, you would notice a psychological phenomenon that is extremely compelling. Much like today, the trends of particular eras affect everyone. Most every person alive in the 1970s presented themselves in a similar way. Common social trends included: “Farrah hair” (made famous by the Charlie’s Angles blonde bombshell, Farrah Fawcett), bell-bottom jeans, graphic tee-shirts, high waisted pants and skirts, large floppy hats, wedged shoes, loud colors, polyester fabrics, etc…).


To make matters even more interesting, if you were to ask a person that grew up in the seventies why they dressed that way, they would most likely reply, “Oh, that was just in style back then… that’s just how it was”.  This behavior shows us that humans seem to follow a pattern of opting for what are considered “acceptable” choices, rather than “unique” or “individual” choices in society. In this case, perhaps our decisions are not as authentic as we think. It turns out that, it is psychologically difficult for humans to make decisions when they are faced with too many options. As Psychology Today points out, “Intuitively, people feel that the more options they have, the greater their chances are of finding the choice that will perfectly satisfy their needs. But this intuitive assumption turns out to be an illusion – the more options we have, the less likely we are to make a decision at all. To buy… or not to buy.”


Because of the innate human fear of being wrong, the parable “too many options may kill a man” becomes strikingly true. From a business standpoint, if you’re trying to help boost sales for your business, using “social comparison” phrases can be a very helpful tool. As Psychology Today tells us, using phrases such as, “Most visitors who share your profile choose this option” or “Customers who viewed this item also looked at these other options,” can help increase sales. “These sentences are socially oriented, helping the customer to feel like part of a group and thus fulfilling our basic need of wanting to ‘belong.’ This relates to another strategy often used by brick-and-mortar sales reps: using statements like “Business women usually pick this bag” so potential customers will unconsciously associate a product with a group they would like to be a part of.”


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