LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

February 2022
Volume 18, Issue 2

These are monthly tips on boosting business and professional results.

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Below find this month’s newsletter, hot off the press!

  • Special Message: Want to Persuade Your Audiences Rationally? Give Them Both Pros AND Cons
  • Feature Article: Even More Tips on Predicting Irrational Consumer Behavior

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Note from the Author

Another Look at Our Fascinating Eccentricities

Eccentric performer giving an encore This month’s issue advances a sequel to my recent newsletter on consumer behavior, which I believe deserves an encore performance! There’s much more to this fascinating topic that we can use to our greatest advantage when anticipating how our peers, colleagues, customers, clients, students, family, or friends are going to behave.

As I noted last time, Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions,” tops my list of the most compelling bodies of research to be published in years.

Ariely, an MIT professor, studies the seemingly “irrational” idiosyncrasies and impulses that unwittingly guide our social and consumer-based actions. These insights can help us recognize many mysterious influences that shape our decision-making and our perceptions of ourselves and others. That’s why I felt it was important to cover another collection of his findings this month.

I’ve also include some great research on various “rational” ways in which we make buying decisions. Having all of this insight into what makes our fellow human beings tick can be worth its weight in gold!

I hope you enjoy this month’s features, and please leave your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

Want to Persuade Your Audiences Rationally?
Give Them Both Pros AND Cons

The science of persuasion has moved to a new level of intrigue as researchers determine which kinds of arguments or information help buyers make purchasing decisions. Here’s the question: Should you tell your audiences only the good things about your offerings, or give them more of a complete analysis? Some interesting answers emerged from a back issue of the User Interface Design Newsletter.

Persuasive speakerResearchers have been probing whether one-sided presentations (only telling the good things about a product) or two-sided presentations (telling both the pros and cons) are the most effective in persuading consumers to buy a product.

One research team developed a series of experiments for products that ranged from cellphones to bicycles to toothpaste to portable DVD players to medicine. In half the tests, consumers were presented with only positive information. In the other half, consumers were given both pros and cons. Here are some of the findings:

  • Both one-sided and two-sided messages can increase positive attitudes toward a product.
  • Two-sided messages are better for instilling consumer confidence in a product.
  • Consumers exposed to both pros and cons indicated a stronger intention to buy a product than those exposed only to pros — even though both groups had developed positive attitudes toward the product.

Another research team concurred that people who only see positive information know that they still need to come up with and analyze the drawbacks of a given decision. In contrast, people who are exposed to both the pros and cons have the impression that the information is complete. Therefore, they don’t need to put forth the effort to generate and then weigh out the cons before they can make a good decision. That’s because somebody has already done that for them!

Feature Article

Even More Tips on Predicting Irrational Consumer Behavior
by Adele Sommers

This article continues the exploration of one of the more insightful business books in many years: “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions,” by MIT researcher and professor of behavioral economics, Dan Ariely.

"Predictably Irrational" by Dan ArielyIn Ariely’s decades of study of consumer decision-making, he has discovered an intriguing array of human idiosyncrasies. Gaining a deep understanding of our own peculiarities could significantly guide the way we conduct our business and marketing activities to cater to the “irrational,” but predictable, aspects of consumer behavior.

A previous newsletter summarized the findings in four of about a dozen topics of Ariely’s book. This article reviews four additional areas, with findings that you could potentially apply to your own business, professional, or personal life. So, buckle up and enjoy more human irrationality!

We Peg Our Buying Expectations to Initial Reference Points

Through a series of clever experiments, Ariely observed an intriguing pattern that occurs whenever numbers of any kind are mentioned to buyers before asking them to consider purchasing an item at a certain price.

Regardless of which number is mentioned — it could be the outside temperature, an identification number, or a quantity of something — that number acts as an “anchor” and gives buyers a relative point of comparison for the very next purchase they consider making.

Examples of the anchoring effect:

  • AnchorArtificially induced anchors (such as asking people to consider the last two digits of a random ID number as the price for an item that they will next be asked to consider buying) can strongly influence the highest price that they would be willing to pay for an item.

    The effect is this: The lower the anchor number, the lower the relative ceiling on what the buyers said they’d be willing to pay for that item. Conversely, the higher the anchor number, the higher the relative ceiling on what buyers would be willing to pay.
  • Anchors take effect with new behaviors, and persist as reference points as long as people can recall their first purchase. Buying Starbucks coffee at $4 a cup may seem like an extravagance at first, but once someone begins buying it at that price, that price becomes an anchor for that type of purchase. In any case, those anchor points endure not only during the current purchase, but well into the future.
  • Price tags can be anchors, too, but only if we contemplate buying at that particular price, not simply when we see a price tag.

Our Love Affair with Ownership and Possessions

Closet fill with stuffAriely observed a phenomenon that most of us are already familiar with — we seem to have an innate tendency to become extremely attached to what we own, even if it’s currently of little or no value to us and costs us dearly to hang onto it!

A related behavior is that we tend to focus more on what we stand to lose (such as our precious junk) rather than what we stand to gain (such as the compensation we’ll receive from selling it). This occurs because of the very strong aversion we have to loss.

We also begin to feel partial ownership of something even before we actually buy or take possession of it. Examples include situations when we look at a catalog and imagine ourselves already owning and wearing the clothing or using the products.

We further assume that others will view a transaction from our perspective — including the feelings and memories we associate with an item we are selling. It means, for example, that we might expect buyers to overlook a cracked window in our home that’s for sale because of all of our warm associations with living there!

The Problem with Too Many Options

Ingenious experiments have shown that when offered a range of options, we try to maximize every option available to us. We also try to keep all of our options open indefinitely — even if we pay heavily in terms of time, energy, and resources.

Ariely found that we often don’t want to weigh the possibilities and settle fairly quickly on the best possible choice. Instead, we end up committing to far too many things or overspend on overly complex products (often experiencing “analysis paralysis” in the process) — just so we can have access to something we might want or need in the future.


  • Cellphone with lots of optionsParents who shuffle kids around to too many extracurricular activities, hoping that one of those activities will spark their child’s interest or talents.
  • Buying a gizmo with far more features than we would ever use, just in case one of those features might come in handy “someday.”
  • People who buy an annual gym membership but don’t use it more than a couple of times. (It would be far cheaper overall to pay by the visit — but that would reduce the perceived number of options!)

How Expectations Color Our Perceptions

Ariely succinctly explains: “When we believe beforehand that something will be good ... it generally will be good — and when we think it will be bad, it will be bad.” His research in the arena of foods and beverages suggests doing the following to help set positive expectations for others:

  • Offer an in-depth, mouth-watering description, such as when a caterer portrays an elaborate menu of exotic and fashionable flavors and foods to be served. Potential customers can then imagine the tastes in exquisite detail, and are more likely to select the more descriptive caterer over one with more generic-sounding fare.
  • Deliver and serve the food with creative presentations and attractive packaging, and that way, it will look far more appealing than it would on ordinary tableware.

Expectations also can develop subconsciously, such as through a phenomenon known as “priming.” This technique initially exposes people to words and phrases that suggest a certain theme, which causes a subtle shift in their behavior.

For example, when subjects were “primed” by being exposed to word puzzles that subtly portrayed a retirement theme — “Florida, bingo, ancient” — they walked much more slowly down the hall afterward than those who received different priming or no priming. When subjects were primed with words like “aggressive, annoying, intrude,” they interrupted their testers much more readily than those who were primed with “honor, considerate, polite.”

In conclusion, Ariely’s brilliantly designed experiments expose our “predictably irrational” expectations, perceptions, possessions, and obsession with options. Each revelation suggests novel ways to use the findings when designing our own business and marketing strategies.

Copyright 2022 Adele Sommers

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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