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Consumer Behavior

Shane Frederick (Associate Professor at Yale University’s School of Management) did a talk on Behavioral Economics at our recent research conference that got me thinking. But before we tap into the scary place that is my brain, let’s consider what behavioral economics is. Most of us with a formal business education have taken at least one if not several economics classes, during which we were exposed to market theories based on assumptions that sounded reasonable in principle but that really didn’t represent how things worked in real life. Behavioral economics, Shane started, is the study of economics when those assumptions are relaxed, and the relaxation of one of these assumptions, that people act rationally, is what got my attention.

One of the examples Shane used to make his point involved a pivotal point late in a 2009 football game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. Bill Belichick, the coach of the Patriots, decided to go for it on 4th and 2 deep in his own territory. The attempt failed, the Colts scored after the ensuring change of possession and won the game, and nearly everyone in the sports world pointed to Belichicks' seemingly insane decision.  But was it really insane? 

new years resolution market researchWe had a notion here at TRC that by the middle of March most New Year’s Resolutions would have been tossed by the wayside, either in favor of giving up something meaningful for Lent, or the simple acknowledgement that this just isn’t the year to lose 25 pounds. Would folks who made a resolution at the beginning of the year still be keeping that resolution 3 months later?

We kicked around a few hypotheses, and then went about testing them using our online panel of consumers:

  • Younger consumers would be more likely to make resolutions than older ones (we figured they hadn’t become jaded by their resolutions not working out over time)
  •  People would be more focused on issues relating to their health (losing weight, exercising more) than other types of resolutions.
  • Most folks who made a resolution would have dropped it by the 3-month mark

So how did our predictions fare?

The Outside View that Daniel Kahneman talks about in his book Thinking, Fast & Slow, is a specific remedy to a problem known as the planning fallacy (i.e.) the inability of people to make predictions. The planning fallacy is part of a larger problem of optimism bias. What is optimism bias? Simply put, people are generally more optimistic than they should be. For example, it is well known that most people think they are better than average drivers, an impossibility. It stems from a general dose of overconfidence not warranted by the situation on hand.

The best example of overconfidence is a study that Kahneman cites of CFOs of large corporations. They were asked to estimate the returns of the S&P Index over the following year. The data were collected over a number of years and hence there was ample opportunity to correlate it with the actual performance of the Index in the following year. Any guesses as to this correlation, given that the respondents should have been expected to have special insight in this matter? It was almost exactly zero, slightly less, in fact! And they seemed to have no idea their forecast was that bad.

Tagged in: Psychology

what am i supposed to doYes, it is a rather important issue and can be approached in a variety of ways. My purpose with this post is not to provide a comprehensive answer, but look at one specific solution based on what I recently read. The book is Thinking, Fast and Slow, the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman's excellent summary of a lifetime of research. He is perhaps the most accomplished psychologist around and could (among other things) justifiably be called the intellectual godfather of behavioral economics. It is always worth listening to what he says and in this particular case, it seems to me there is a nugget that applies to making quantitative research more actionable.

How to Be Happy by Spending Money Wisely

Posted by on in Consumer Behavior

It is that time of year when many people's thoughts turn towards buying gifts for loved ones. More generally it is a time when thoughts related to money and happiness occupy our attention. When thinking of ways to spend money either on oneself, for loved ones or even for complete strangers wouldn't it be nice if there was some actual research to provide data-based guidance on the topic? As it happens, there is. Researchers Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia, Daniel Gilbert of Harvard and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia have identified, through their research, eight principles designed to help consumers get more happiness for their money. Follow them as you will to enhance your life.

Tagged in: Psychology

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