Manipulation Series #1: Irrelevant Alternatives

I’m a huge fan of human behavioral psychology and have read a number of books and papers on the matter over the years. It’s incredible how much we are manipulated on a day-to-day basis and the effect such exploitation has on our lives. And the ringer here, of course, is the fact that we don’t even notice it most of the time!

So I figured, might as well write a series on some of these methods of manipulation that I find pretty interesting. Given that I’m reading Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, some of the first things covered will be coming directly from some of his experiments covered, there.

‘Irrelevant’ Alternatives

Oh, this is a fun one. Have you ever seen some pricing on Amazon or with some other service that seems like it would make no sense to go with? Well, I hate to break it to you, but Amazon is no dummy — there is almost always a reason behind this.

The Experiment

Part 1

Dan posed the following question to two sets of 100 students.

Consider a fictional company where you could get access to all their web content for $59, a subscription to the print edition for $125, or a combined print and web subscription, also for $125. Which offer do you select?

As shown above, nobody took the print content offer. We expected this, right? Why would someone choose the that when they could bundle Internet for free?

Part 2

So, Dan decided to post the same question to another group of students, but removed the print option so that the question now read as follows:

Consider a fictional company where you could get access to all their web content for $59 or a combined print and web subscription for $125. Which offer do you select?

We should expect the same results, right? Nobody selected the print only option last time, so it shouldn’t have any effect on the new question. But the results told another story.

That’s right, the removal of an option which nobody chose caused the favored option to slump by 62% and the less favorable option to surge by 325%!

Further Reading:

Today’s Commitment

Be on the lookout for things like this — if you are asked to make a choice from a list and a few of the options are similar (with one which is obviously better than the others), ask yourself the to make the same decision with the obviously lesser decisions out of the picture.