Decision-making (part 1): the ‘zero’ option isn’t useless

How often do you look at the choices in front of you, and think, “What’s the point of that (option)?”

We come across ‘zero’ options – the ones that obviously nobody would choose – surprisingly often.

But, what is the point of them? If they really are ‘useless’, what are they doing to our decision-making?

Well, take a look at this subscription offer run by The Economist in 2009:

In a controlled test, 100 MIT students were asked to express a preference – see the results shown above.

So, if the print only option is a ‘zero’ option (i.e.: nobody chooses it), what is the point of including it in the list?

Or, to put it another way, what would happen if it wasn’t there?

So, the print only option was removed from the list and another 100 MIT students were asked to choose from the revised list, with the following results:

As you can see, when there were only two choices, what was originally the most popular has become the least popular, and vice versa, meaning the ‘zero’ option was actually having an influence on the choices the students were making.

In fact, it wasn’t actually a ‘zero’ option at all. Just because nobody chose it, doesn’t mean it had no influence.

What was happening was the only ‘zero’ element of that option was that nobody chose it.  When it was present, it’s influence on the choices that were made – predominantly cognitive decisions – was important.

What it was actually doing was encouraging the readers to choose the ‘best nearest’ option that was closest to the (obviously) ‘zero’ option. In other words, it helped the readers to make their minds up!

So, next time you see a ‘zero’ option, or if you decide to include one in your own proposals, remember that they’re far from useless after all! They actually help the reader make a decision.

A thank you: I’d just like to give a special mention to Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University, whose work and research has been of great inspiration in writing these articles.

To find out more about how to develop your decision-making, and the the benefits of professional executive coaching and mentoring, particularly in developing leadership, strategy and growing a business, please contact me:

t: 01242-672440

e: click here

© Adrian Malpass 2017. All rights reserved.

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