What Is Choice Blindness?

How We Convinces Ourselves We're Getting What We Want

Choice blindness can influence decisions
People often fail to notice when what they get doesn't match what they chose. Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images

The concept of choice blindness suggests that people are not always aware of their choices and preferences. According to research on this topic, even when you don't get what you want, there's a strong chance that you won't even notice. And you may even defend a choice just because you think it's the one you made.

For example, let's say you've been asked to taste two different types of jams and choose your favorite.

You are then offered another taste of the one you selected as your favorite and asked to explain why you chose it. Do you think that you would notice if the jam that you had initially rejected was presented to you as your "favorite"?

In 2010 social scientists Petter Johansson, Lars Hall, and their colleagues presented just such a scenario to supermarket volunteers, They found that fewer than 20 percent of participants noticed that they tasted the jam they had turned down just a few moments earlier. In many cases, the difference between the two flavors differed dramatically, ranging from spicy to sweet to bitter.

Choice Blindness Can Influence Decisions Both Large and Small

Researchers have demonstrated how choice blindness impacts visual, taste, and smell preferences, but is it possible that it might have an influence on more important choices?

In a 2013 study by Hall and colleagues, researchers investigated how choice blindness might influence political attitudes.

During a Swedish general election, participants were asked to state who they planned to vote for and were then asked to select their opinion for each of a number of wedge issues. Then using sleight of hand, the researchers altered their replies so that they were actually on the opposing political point of view.

Participants were then asked to justify their responses on the altered issues.

Consistent with earlier research on choice blindness, only 22 percent of the manipulated responses were detected and more than 90 percent of the participants accepted and then endorsed at least one altered response.

These results suggest that our political attitudes may be are more open to change than we may realize.

So What Causes Choice Blindness?

How do the experts define choice blindness? According to Johansson and Hall, we frequently fail to notice when we are presented with something different from what we really want, and, we will come up with reasons to defend this "choice."

So why do so many people fail to notice these switches? Are we less aware of our preferences than we think we are?

Interest in the choice at hand is one factor that might play a role. When an issue is more important to us, we might be likely to notice mismatches between what we choose and what we actually get.

Real-World Implications of Choice Blindness

Choice blindness can have important ramifications in the real world. The ability to recognize faces plays a major role in our everyday lives. While we might think that we are good at recognizing a face that we had previously selected, the reality is that we are actually quite poor at detecting switches.

Sources:

Hall L, Johansson P, Tärning B, Sikström S, & Deutgen T (2010). Magic at the marketplace: Choice blindness for the taste of jam and the smell of tea. Cognition, 117 (1), 54-61 PMID: 20637455

Hall L, Strandberg T, Pärnamets P, Lind A, Tärning B and Johansson P (2013) How the Polls Can Be Both Spot On and Dead Wrong: Using Choice Blindness to Shift Political Attitudes and Voter Intentions. PLoS ONE 8(4), e60554. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060554

Johansson, P. & Hall, L. (n.d.). Choice blindness.

 

 

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