When you [think you] have freedom

Why black pearls are more expensive than the white ones

Picture yourself facing the following tasks:
[1] Think about anything you want.
[2] Decide future steps for your professional career.
[3] In the supermarket, choose one tomato sauce to buy.

Few tasks provide so much freedom of choice as the first one. Even though I could guess, as people are influenced by their surroundings, that you probably evoke something related to things you have recently seen/heard/thought about. The second task offers less but still a quite large number of alternatives to consider. The third one is much more restricted, right?!

In fact, every choice we make depends on the ‘degree of freedom’ we are able to grasp. We can translate this ‘degree of freedom’ as a space of action, which is based on the diversity and number of given and imaginable options. Different circumstances induce different spaces of action.

Since we make choices all the time [some more consciously than others] on what to think, say, do, buy and so on, it is worth reflecting on where our options come from and how we cope with them.

Behavioral Economics and Behavioral Design researches show that when interpreting and making decisions, we are often less rational than we think, that our behavior can be easily influenced.

Take the example of black pearls: “The interesting thing about black pearls is that when they were first introduced to the market there was essentially no way to gauge how much they were worth: were they worth more or less than white pearls? Most people instinctually believed that white pearls were still more desirable. But then the black pearl discoverers had an lucrative insight: take these unfamiliar black pearls to a famous jeweler and have them displayed next to the more precious gems: rubies, sapphires, and so on. The result still lives with us today: black pearls are now worth more than white pearls.” from Dan Ariely’s blog. Check also the video ‘Black Pearls’:

Many cases in everyday life are like the black pearls’ case. We take things for granted. We accept certain assumptions without never thinking about them. In the end, black pearls are simply more expensive than the white ones.

Such mental porosity helps us build shortcuts that let our minds move forward, not being paralyzed by ‘overthinking’. However, these shortcuts can lead to deception as well.

Prejudice, consumerism [worth watching: Affluenza], excessive focus on short-term benefits despite larger long-term negative effects and bad decisions in general are common outcomes of these shortcuts.

Therefore, to all of you [designers, entrepreneurs, teachers, communicators, politicians, parents, spouses, artists and more] remember that you have a huge responsibility when creating/offering anything: carefully consider what you are letting people choose and what you are inducing people to do.

Moreover, when you think you have freedom, think twice.

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