By Shawn Hunter
A few years ago at a Sioux Falls, ID supermarket, the owners
experimented with marketing labels next to cans of soup. Some days the label
said “10% off regular price, limit 10 per customer,” and on other days it said
“10% off regular price, no limit per customer.” Shoppers purchased twice as
many on the days with limitations. The sense of scarcity set an anchoring
effect, and the number 10 set a mental anchor of the amount of cans they should
buy. So, those presented with the limited availability felt a mental urge to
Similarly, if I ask you, “Is the oldest dog in the world older or
younger than 60 years?” and then I ask you, “How old is the oldest dog?” Your
answer will be higher than if I just ask you “How old is the oldest dog in the
world?” You know instinctively that a 60-year old dog is completely nuts, but
it will still have a psychological priming effect and sway your guess upwards.
Significantly upwards it turns out. Your dog-age guess will be over a decade
above your guess without the suggestion of a 60-year old dog.
Mental anchors are everywhere, and quite effectively
used in negotiations. The above example is from Daniel Kahnemann’s new book Thinking Fast
and Slow. In his chapter on the anchoring effect, he also
points out that we are much more susceptible to psychological anchors during
times of stress and anxiety. If we are in a stressful state and someone
suggests a point of direction, or an idea to consider, we are much more likely
to accept and build on that idea, instead of patiently and thoughtfully
questioning it. In another Kahnemann-type example, if you are nervous and I ask
even a ridiculous question like, “Is your arm getting numb?” You are far more
likely to believe your arm might actually be getting numb instead of reject
such a nutty suggestion.
Consider this next time you speak your mind: in times of stress
with mounting deadlines, you can more easily make your case but you do so at
the expense of allowing the thoughtful contribution of the team. And then
sacrifice the voice of the community who might have a more powerful collective
idea than you. Create a space to allow considered contribution. You will almost
always create a stronger result.