Your decisions are easily primed by random factors
People are influenced by the strangest things and sometimes we make decisions because of random bias. We should be aware of our bias and how our opinions and actions can be shaped by priming.
Jonah Berger, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of Business, conducted a terrific study where he demonstrates that where people vote affects how they vote. Essentially, people whose voting booth is located in a church are more likely to put more weight into social issues, people voting in fire houses care more about safety, and people voting in a school tend to put more weight on things like education.
Can you believe that where you vote affects how you vote?
People are easily primed by the simplest thing, like their name. University of Buffalo’s Associate Professor and Psychologist Brett Pelham conducted a groundbreaking study that some of the biggest decisions of our life – where we live, what we do, and who we marry – are influenced by our first name. The book The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt explains further:
Men named Lawrence and women named Laurie are more likely to become lawyers. Louis and Louise are more likely to move to Louisiana or St. Louis, and George and Georgina are more likely to move to Georgia.
My guess is that people with the last name of Clinton, Kennedy, and Bush (all relatively common last names) tend to have a more favorable opinion of the Presidents sharing the same last name than the rest of the population.
People can also start acting a certain way because other people expect them too. Berger has other studies which suggest people are more likely to conform to a stereotype of them because that stereotype exists.
In psychology, these actions are known as priming. And we humans are primed often. As advanced decision makers, we need to make sure we are making important decisions for the right reasons and not just because of being primed. Deciding to see a Dustin Hoffman movie just because we have the same last name is no big deal. But if I wanted to switch professions and become an actor because of my name, it might be a good idea to really understand why.
This is another reason why your “gut” isn’t always right. A gut reaction is generally a collection of biases and can be easily primed. While it can be right (the brain can often analyze information implicitly faster than it can explicitly), it can also be dangerously wrong. It would be a really bad idea to hire someone to watch over your child just because you got a “good feeling” about the person.
Your gut might be much better at telling you what not to do than giving you good direction on what to do. If your gut tells you something is wrong with someone, than you probably do not want to entrust your kid with her. But a positive gut-check often does little good (at least for me). When thinking about how this affects hiring, our goal at Rapleaf is to attempt to remove primed biases from hiring decisions. While you’ll never be able to remove all bias, removing just a few of them can give you a dramatically large advantage over a competitor. Malcolm Gladwell has a great anecdote about this in Blink where a metropolitan symphony decides to change its hiring by listening to someone play (person was behind a screen) rather than seeing them play. It turned out that the symphony in question massively increased the number of women they hired when they stopped watching people play and instead just listened to them. And, of course, the quality of the music got much better too.
So the next time you are voting in an elementary school, think twice to yourself if we really need this new school bond.