Consumer ‘choices’ we just don’t need
My poor head sometimes makes dodgy links between things and to be shot of them I dump it on here (that’s a bad pun which might become clear by the end of the post). So that’s a warning, what follows might be a load of old shit that doesn’t make much sense. I have tried to get it to cohese, but it’s not quite there. If you are enjoying your Sunday morning, get out now whilst you still can.
This week I read this article, about the emotional part of the brain being involved in complex decision making processes. It referred to research that suggested that trying to make complex decisions on a purely rational basis will lead to a greater chance of your making a poor decision. For example, I can immediately apply it to punting decisions; it explains why all the study of collateral form in the world won’t necessarily find you the big Saturday handicap winner… The research reminds us that there’s a lot more going on in your subconscious mind that can usefully contribute to thought processes than you might be aware of.
The example used in the opening paragraph of the linked article (How Should We Make Hard Decisions) is about the choice a shopper makes about which toothpaste to buy. Because there are so many types of toothpaste, promising to do so much for you, the simple entry of ‘toothpaste’ on your shopping list can turn into a demanding cognitive choice as your rational brain attempts to sift through and compare all the information on offer. The article’s conclusion is that you will buy the one that ‘feels’ the best.
I kind of knew what the writer was on about. I have referred to that moment before on here, when I become trapped in a supermarket aisle staring for ages trying to make a tortuous purchase decision. This process can be exacerbated when I am hungover. But as hard as I thought about the toothpaste example, it just didn’t ring true. I always buy the one that’s on offer, usually placed at the end of the aisle. I have no feeling other than the one about having saved a quid, or whatever.
The point is we don’t really need all those types of toothpaste to choose from do we? It’s a choice, but it’s a false one, because, as the research suggests, we can’t process the choice cognitively anyway. I buy what makes me feel good in terms of saving money, you might buy the one with a red, blue and white stripe. The concept of choice is an illusory one in this case because we buy based on feel or habit, or pricing. And even if we make a ‘poor’ choice it is unlikely our teeth will fall out immediately as a result.
Actually, there’s a whole philosophical debate to be had there about free will and toothpaste, but I am too addled for that today. Let’s just say, the research is good, but the toothpaste example just didn’t work for me.
Anyway, I’ve now sadly got this choice concept in my head and I am out in the world shopping later in the week and I come across two types of toilet roll piled high: buy 9 rolls and get another 9 free. I approach the toilet roll buying in the same way I do the toothpaste (have you noticed how half a supermarket aisle can be given over to stocking each of these products – anything that saves me disappearing down the aisle can only be good).
The thing is, in this enticing BOGOF (another crap pun alert), type one is white, and type two is that rather murky colour which might be best described as something akin to mouldy apricot as it is neither yellow nor orange, nor indeed cream.
And stocks of the white one are running low because that’s the one that people want to buy. Why? Do they feel better about white paper? Or do they know that more dyes go into coloured toilet paper and it is therefore less environmentally friendly (is that true?)? Or do most people have white bathrooms and it’s a style decision they base their selection on? Or maybe it’s just because that murky, mouldy apricot colour is just too disgusting to have in the house if you don’t have to.
That must be it!
But I suppose, to link it back to the research, we feel that white toilet paper is the best – even though, rationally speaking, the job it does cannot be affected by the shade it comes in…
In any case, toilet-paper manufacturers of the world, save us the bother of potentially being in a cognitive overload situation when choosing bog roll – scrap the filthy pastel shades, the impregnated with aloe vera varieties, the quilting and the twee embossed varieties and just make one sort of plain toilet roll: white.
There are some strange people who take it all too seriously indeed here
Posted on September 25, 2011, in Consumerism, Philosophy, Science, Superficial chaff and tagged Consumer Choice, Decision making, Free Will, Supermarkets, Toilet Roll, Toothpaste. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.