question answering


Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

© Ye Li 2022. This content is protected and may not be shared, uploaded or distributed. 1

Memory, Emotions, and Social
Heuristics in Decision Making

All rights reserved © Ye Li
This content is protected and may not be shared, uploaded or distributed.

Agenda

• Memory and consideration sets

• Automatic or mindless behavior

• Embodied cognition

• The influence of affect/emotion

• Social heuristics

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Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

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The difficulty of overriding System 1

• Notice that even after we “see” the illusion it
still fools us
– System 1 (Automatic) is the strong default
– System 2 (Deliberative) must be actively engaged

• This is more than just perceptual illusions
– Today: Interesting roles for memory, affect, feelings in

decision-making

Mindlessness:
More common than you think

• Consequences of dominance of System I :
– The good: Fast and frugal (low cost)
– The bad: We are not aware, can lead to bad decisions

When the decision environment is different
from one for which heuristics were adapted…
– Context dependence encourages myopic behavior
– Systematic patterns are easy to exploit

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Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

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Individual Differences:
REI (Rational-Experiential Inventory)

• Rationality: reliance on and enjoyment of
thinking in an analytical, logical manner

• Experientiality: reliance on and enjoyment of
feelings and intuitions in making decisions

•Higher Rationality
More System 2
Less reliance on
heuristics
* Lower impulsivity
(r = -.48)

r = ‐.10

Individual Differences:
Impulsiveness (and 3 subscores)

• Impulsivity: Extent to which people act on a
whim, without foresight or planning

Average = 2.1 
(range 1.13‐3.33)

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Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

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Evoked (a.k.a. Consideration) Set

• Of all options available, those that are seriously
considered

• Typical size 2-4… why? (Hauser 1978)
• Cognitive limitations (remember cognitive

overload)
• Satisficing

• Identifying the consideration set is a BIG part
of the choice (remember your ABC’s).

Marketing 101

1. Be part of the consideration set
– If you are not in the set, you cannot be chosen

2. Decrease the size of the set

3. “Crowd out” close competitors

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Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

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How are Evoked Sets Formed?

• Stimulus (recognition) based choice:
– Supermarket, online shopping
– Published lists (e.g. New York Magazine), etc.

• Memory (recall) based:
– Where do I take my significant other for Valentine’s Day?
– Ordering take-out (without a menu)
– Who to invite to my virtual graduation party? ( =( )
– This is what advertising is all about!

Overcoming Barriers to Entry:
Influencing Customer Memory

• Frequent or recent exposure
to brand name
– Advertising repetition
– Visibility (distribution, PR, …)

• Brand naming
– Simple (easy to pronounce &

spell)
– Distinctive
– Meaningful
– Potential for imagery
– Emotionally rich
– Positive connotation

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Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

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Coors

Imports

Domestic

Bud
Sierra
Nevada

Corona

Dos
Equis

Heineken

Amstel

Harp

Guinness
Miller

Sam
Adams

BEER

Modelo

Spreading activation

Mindless (and hungry) shoppers…
Gilbert, Gill, & Wilson 2002

• Selected people without a list
• Asked to list of intended purchases
– Half given their lists, half weren’t

• Ate and rated appeal of muffin
– Before shopping, after shopping

%
 U
n
p
la
n
n
e
d
 P
u
rc
h
a
se
s

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Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

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Mindless Consumption

• How many food
decisions (things
that influence your
caloric intake) do
you make a day?

• Estimate of ~200 food
choices per day
(mostly unconscious)

Container Size

• Free Popcorn
– Medium vs. Large Tubs
– Fresh vs. 14-day-old

popcorn.

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Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

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Embodied Cognition

• Definition: Your thoughts are shaped by
aspects of the body other than the brain

• Example:
– People who commit or think about a moral

transgression like cheating on a test want to wash
their hands or use Purell  Morality is Clean.

• In other words, automatic (System 1) processes
link your body and mind

Embodied Judgments

• People holding heaving objects judge
their own opinions as more important,
take things seriously

• Holding warm things (e.g., coffee) makes
you judge people as warmer

• Nodding your head (vs. shaking) makes
you more likely to agree

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Aside: Free Will and Determinism scale
Free will (average = 3.6)
• People have complete control over the decisions they 
make.
• People must take full responsibility for any bad choices 
they make.
• People can overcome any obstacles if they truly want 
to.
• Criminals are totally responsible for the bad things they 
do.
• People have complete free will.
• People are always at fault for their bad behavior.
• Strength of mind can always overcome the body’s 
desires.

Scientific Determinism (average = 3.0)
• People’s biological makeup determines their talents and 
personality.
• Psychologists and psychiatrists will eventually figure out 
all human behavior.
• Your genes determine your future.
• Science has shown how your past environment created 
your current intelligence and personality.
• As with other animals, human behavior always follows 
the laws of nature.
• Parents’ character will determine the character of their 
children.
• Childhood environment will determine your success as 
an adult.

Fatalistic Determinism (average = 2.7)
• I believe that the future has already been 
determined by fate.
• No matter how hard you try, you can’t change your 
destiny.
• Fate already has a plan for everyone.
• Whatever will be, will be – there’s not much you 
can do about it.
• Whether people like it or not, mysterious forces 
seem to move their lives.

Unpredictability (average = 3.4)
• Chance events seem to be the major cause of 
human history.
• No one can predict what will happen in this world.
• Life seems unpredictable – just like throwing dice or 
flipping a coin.
• People are unpredictable.
• Life is hard to predict because it is almost totally 
random.
• Luck plays a big role in people’s lives.
• What happens to people is a matter of chance.
• People’s futures cannot be predicted.

System 1: Affect (A.K.A. Emotions)
• Things that make us feel good are good for us  should be

approached (we want this)
• Things that make us feel bad are bad for us  should be avoided (we

do not want this)

• Is listening to your emotions a good behavioral and
choice heuristic?

• Examples of relying on affect:
– Approach when attracted to someone
– Stay away from things that scare you
– Visit countries that excite you
– Avoid food that looks or smells disgusting
– Do the things you can be proud of
– Avoid the things that make you feel ashamed

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Properties of Affect

• Affect is a main driving force of preferences and
hence decisions
– Enormous motivational power
 Love, pride, shame, anger, attraction, disgust, fear

– Rings “true”
– Difficult to consciously alter: Battle of the two systems
– Can overwhelm reason
 Disregard for other choice criteria
 Focus on present; disregard of past and future

• Decisions by System 1 can influence System 2 by
– Creating justifications
– Changing perceptions

Two Types of Affect

• Integral affect: Feelings produced by the
stimulus under consideration or the thought of
it
– Anticipated emotion can be important input to

assessment of subjective utility (even for Homo
economicus)

• Incidental affect: Feelings unrelated to what is
under consideration
– E.g., produced by stubbing your toe
– Should NOT affect your decision

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Using Affect in Marketing

• Induce positive feelings:
– About the product or service
– In the customers about themselves
– Make the customer anticipate feeling good
– About anything at all while thinking about your

product

• Induce negative affect about the alternative
– Think political attack ads

Sources of Positive Stimulus Affect

• Physically attractive people
– Halo effect (vs. the horn effect). Attractive people rated as

more altruistic, kind, trustworthy, and competent

• People who are similar or have common interests (Bertrand
& Mullainathan 2004)

– Mirroring the speech of another (the chameleon effect;
Chartrand & Bargh 1999)

– Flattery, touching
– Sharing information, stuff

• The decision itself

Which of the above are integral, and which incidental?

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How credit card companies use affect

• Debt collectors use positive, inclusive language
such as “we,” “us,” and “our”
– e.g., “Let’s see how we can work together to get us

out of this jam.”

• Use the power of liking to increase consumer
purchasing
– Personalized credit cards

Incidental Affect

Positive affect makes people

• Like things more

• More open to new
things and ideas

• More willing to take
risks

• Less detailed in their
evaluations

Negative affect makes people

• Like things less

• Less open to new
things and ideas

• Less willing to take
risks

• More cautious in their
evaluations

These effects are:

• Global

• Usually occur without awareness

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Cialdini’s Social Heuristics

• Like other heuristics, NOT mindful decisions
– Automated: Very well (over-)learned
– Assumption: Generally useful to society

• Econs are not easily persuaded
– You can provide facts but talk is cheap

 Why should I believe you if our incentives aren’t aligned?
– Incentives are all that really matters

• Humans
– The merits of an issue are not the only (or necessarily most

important) factor determining persuasion

What influences people beyond the merits of an issue?

Evolved heuristics for effective
co-opetition in social domains

• Gaining influence by
understanding use of
social heuristics
– Reciprocity
– Consistency
– Social proof
– Authority
– Scarcity
– Liking (affect)
 Already talked about this

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Rule I: Reciprocity

• You feel obligated to repay the person who gave
you access to resources (or a gift)
– This is true even when gift is not requested!

• Why?
– Society encourages cooperation and reciprocation
– Efficient over long term

Influence Principle

• (Even unsolicited) overtures create
perceived obligation

• Why does it work?
– Obligation not only to repay, but also to accept

initial favor
– Indebtedness is very unpleasant
– Fear of shame if no reciprocation

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Applications

• Charities that send you (unsolicited) gifts
– E.g. Address labels
– Realtors, too…

• Free samples (e.g., grocery store or dentists)
• Salespeople “wine & dine”

• What other examples have you
encountered?

Rule II: Consistency

• Because we do not constantly want to make
decisions, we tend to behave in a way that is
consistent (see video for example)

• Not only does inconsistency take extra thought, it
also looks and feels bad!
– Example: You go to the gym but snack afterward

• Why?
– Society sees consistency is a sign of mental strength

and perseverance
– Inconsistent are harder to predict

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Topic 6 – Mindless Decisions

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The “foot in the door”

• Condition 1
– Will you fill out the

questionnaire?

• Acceptance rate: 52%

• Condition 2
– Can you do me a favor?

• A: Yes or No

– Will you fill out the
questionnaire?

• Acceptance rate: 84%

• Frank Flynn’s Penn Station Study:

• Approached people with a 2-page questionnaire:

Using Consistency

• Encourage commitment before behavior
– Related to self-commitment devices (Week 5)

• Best commitment strategies:
– Personal
– Public
– In writing

• Other examples of consistency you’ve
encountered??

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Rule III: Social Proof

• To avoid making decision, look at what others do

• Social norms are more influential…
– If more people follow them (descriptive norm)
– The more people doing the behavior are like us, or the

more we would like to be like them (prescriptive norm)
– The more novel or uncertain the situation/product

• Why?
– Rational: Information-based.

 What if first person had bad information?

– Semi-rational: Coordination
 Hard to go against the norm

Right vs. wrong ways to
convey social proof

• Describing a problem as widespread might work
when seeking funding from donors or investors

• BUT, important to not use negative social proof
in messages sent to the general public
– They may interpret such descriptions as popularizing

and legitimizing the undesirable activity
– It is MUCH better to convey positive social

proof to public

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Rule IV: Authority

• Follow directives, advice and instructions
if given by proper/legitimate authority
– Experts
– Authority figures (e.g., CEOs, deans)

• Why?
– Rational: information-based (efficient form of social

influence)

Influence Principle

• Signal authority
– Framed awards, degrees, etc.
– Professional clothing (suits!), uniforms
– Physical characteristics (example on next slide)

• Any interesting examples from your
experience?

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Rule V: Scarcity

• Rare things are often valuable, and valuable
things are often rare
– Notice link to loss aversion: I don’t want to be the one

without (FOMO!)

• Why?
– Social proof: We infer true value (both information and

preference) from market value
– Markets often a correlation between prices and

quantity.
 Art
 Luxury products
 Misprints

“Inverted Jenny” stamp
» One sold for $977,500!

Manipulating scarcity

• Increase perceived value by limiting availability
– Limited supply (e.g., Gilt, Woot, first 100 customers,

“only 100 made!”)
– Limited time (“offer expires today”)
– Non-fungible Tokens (NFT) – Blockchain for creating

scarcity

• Increase the perception of competition for your
goods and services
– Common tactic for Realtors to have “another

buyer”

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Ye’s Keys

21. Many choices are not much of a choice at all.
Controlling automatic (System 1) responses
such as affect and embodied cognition can
control choice.

22. Even when choices are conscious, the evoked
set is small. Increase “mind share” by boosting
brand memory and crowding out competitors.

23. Humans are social animals and our behaviors
are driven by automatic usage of social rules:
– Reciprocity: Create sense of obligation
– Consistency: Elicit commitment
– Social proof: Provide proof (or illusion) of validation
– Authority: Show your expertise
– Scarcity: Create exclusivity and artificial deadlines

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