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A Good Self-Esteem is More Important Than You Think

The famous physicist, Murray Gell-Mann once said: “imagine how hard physics would be if electrons could think”. He understood the irrationality and many factors such as culture, the environment, traits, prejudices etc. that influence how we view the world and hence how we behave. Relatively new research show that people exhibit more of a behaviour when they receive more money. What is paradoxical is that when people are presented with cognitive challenges, more money becomes less of a motivator*. Marketers, psychologists and the like are confronted with a paradox: no matter to what extent people show unpredictable behaviour, that behaviour is hard to change**. Our reasoning shuts down and our emotions take over.

It is sometimes possible for us to hold two opposing views about something at the same time. Consider smoking. You might say that ‘I smoke because I have a lot of stress’. On the other hand you also say ‘ I know smoking is bad for me’. The consequence is that you might end up justifying your choice to smoke to reduce the anxiety that accompanies the two conflicting views – a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance.

We self-justify our decisions, which also explains the reason why, once we have decided on a certain course of action, we find it hard to change. Because not only do we justify our decisions we refuse to accept information to the contrary. Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson perhaps says it best in their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) we take ”the absence of evidence to be evidence for what we believe”. Our desire to look for consonance (the positive of dissonance) is so strong that we continually look for that which confirms our beliefs; to make us feel good about ourselves, what we have done and who we are. The consequence is (at least) three cognitive biases. As I’ve mentioned, we look for behavior or information confirming our position. If you have liking towards animal fat and hence justifies it by believing that it is good for you, then will see any new research as confirming your belief.

Secondly, we tend to over-attribute things that happened more towards our own abilities rather than circumstances that played in our favour ***

Thirdly, the moment we belong to a group we begin endorse that group more than any other group. This effect is similar to the halo effect, where  Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational provides great insight into this phenomenon, namely the endowment effect. We overvalue what we own. Conversely, we are never willing to pay as much for something than somebody else wants for it. This has deep-seated consequences for marketing. Providing guarantees, warranties or free trials with products are excellent ways to allow people to take ownership of what they have. They are then much less likely to return what we have.

We project what we feel onto other people. Say for instance that you are shown a fairly ‘neutral’ picture of a person. If you are told beforehand that he is the richest person in the world, you might see him as ‘friendly and ambitious’. However, if you are told that he is on his way to prison after robbing people of their money by investing it in a pyramid scheme, you will most certainly have a different picture of him.


Marketing Implications

Pretend for a moment that you have to decide between playing cricket and golf. You know your real handicap is golf itself, but the recent US Championships left such an indelible mark on you, so you chip in for golf. Enter: the golf shop. The sales representative can see your confidence from a mile away. By using the most ‘instinctive of marketing tactics, he gets you to purchase a premium set of clubs. He doesn’t even bother with up-selling, because he knows what awaits. After months of practice you just can’t seem to get the hang (read ‘swing’) of things. “What is so relaxing about it anyways?” you ask. “Join the ‘club'” your friend mocks. To justify your investment, you start saying to yourself : “I should just go for a few lessons/I just don’t practice hard enough/I have just been really busy lately/The clubs are not the quality I thought they were. etc. etc.  So you go back to golf shop (to the waiting sales representative) and add a few lessons, a coach and a few rounds of golf. All the while spending a copious amount of money that you would not have spent in the first place had you not kept justifying your decision for buying the clubs.

*RSA Animate Video – The surprising truth of what motivates us
** This trait has a neurological basis, known as Long-Term Potentiation (LTP)
***The self-serving bias


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Werner van Zyl
Phone: +27 84 810 22 74
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