Portrait of Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, and winner of the 2002 Nobel prize in economic science. New York, NY, April 17 2012.
Click the image above to go to the interview, in Der Spiegel, in which our intellectual superhero finally explains why familiarity feels so good:
Of course, there are other mechanisms of advertising that also act on the subconscious. But the main effect is simply that a name we see in a shop looks familiar — because, when it looks familiar, it looks good. There is a very good evolutionary explanation for that: If I encounter something many times, and it hasn’t eaten me yet, then I’m safe. Familiarity is a safety signal. That’s why we like what we know.
EXPERIMENT: Two groups of university students were given a set of words with which to form sentences. Only one group was provided with words more often associated with the elderly, such as “forgetful,” “bald,” “gray” and “wrinkle.” The group provided with these words performed noticeably more slowly than the other one. CONCLUSION: Words can subconsciously control our behavior by evoking certain associations.
EXPERIMENT: University students participating in a study were told that a baseball bat and a baseball together cost $1.10 and that the bat cost $1 more than the ball. When asked how much the ball cost, more than 80 percent of participants answered “10 cents” — the incorrect answer. CONCLUSION: We accept the first plausible figure that comes to mind while avoiding any conscious effort to work through complex calculations.
EXPERIMENT: German judges were asked to determine sentences for shoplifting and allowed their decision to be influenced by the numbers resulting from rolling a set of dice. If they role a three, they returned an average sentence of five months. If they rolled a nine, the average sentence was eight months. CONCLUSION: The first number to enter our minds has an anchoring effect that is hard to break without conscious effort.
EXPERIMENT: Experiment subjects were required to submerge a hand in painfully cold water twice. The first dip lasted 60 seconds. Although the second dip lasted 90 seconds, the water was slightly warmed after 60 seconds. When asked which one they would prefer to repeat, if required to do so, 80 percent chose the second one. CONCLUSION: One’s evaluation of a painful experience is unaffected by its duration. The only thing that matters is which experience had the more pleasant end.