Predicting decisions with comparisons and decoys

When facing a choice, the brain looks for information to assess the differences between these choices. It is specifically looking for easy comparisons to make the right decision.


When offering a choice to people, they will want to compare 3 options . The choice made will depend on the easiest comparison, which means it is predictable.


If the 3 options are fairly equal, the mind will usually opt for the middle one, because it is easier to compare with the choices on either side.


Theory of comparison example


This theory of comparison has been proven with a decoy. Imagine you’re buying a car and your only criteria is that it must be large enough for a family and a dog.


Option 1: The dealer shows you a large saloon, which fits your criteria (this is the decoy) and it is ready to drive away with full MOT and has been valeted. This car is £15,000.


Option 2: You are then shown a Range Rover, which is £14,900, but it does not have an MOT and it hasn’t yet been valeted.


Option 3: The next car is a Range Rover with the same spec as the previous one, but this one does have a valid MOT and has been valeted. It is priced at £15,100.


Comparing the saloon car specifications against the Range Rover is harder than comparing the 2 Range Rovers. So the mind will want to dismiss the Saloon as an option.


Now, the mind has an easier comparison with the 2 Range Rovers and it will go for the most attractive deal. This means weighing up the 2 elements that are different between them, namely the MOT and the valet.


The certainty of knowing that there are no mechanical faults on the car with the MOT is appealing and, given that we are primarily visual creatures, it looks better too. The uncertainty of a car not having an MOT and wondering if the car will show any scratches or dents once cleaned and polished, is enough to make this an easy choice.


Seeing is believing. The deal is sealed!


We are constantly making comparisons about what to eat, where to go on holiday, who to love, etc. and all the time, naturally discounting anything that stands in the way of easy comparisons.


So how is this applied in health & safety?


As an example, let’s say you want workers to wear mandatory eye protection. You then offer them 3 choices:


Option 1 – the eye protection you have researched and is the most suitable for the purpose.


Option 2 – a slightly smarter style to option 1, but with no anti-mist coating.


Option 3 – a face visor.


While options 2 looks better than option 1, they are not practical and would therefore be discounted. Option 3 isn’t comparable and therefore isn’t really an option at all.


Had option 3 been easily comparable to options 1 and 2, the choice would have been harder and you may not have got them to choose the one you wanted them to.


Creating three options means that we can easily predict which choice will be made. All you have to do is decide on the choice you want the person to make. Then give them an easily comparable choice, but with some obvious downsides. Then throw a decoy into the mix – something that is not easily comparable – and you will be able to predict their choice correctly.