July 02, 2012
Get There First To Influence Choices

First come, first served or bought or joined.

We experience the world serially rather than simultaneously. A century of research on human and nonhuman animals has suggested that the first experience in a series of two or more is cognitively privileged. We report three experiments designed to test the effect of first position on implicit preference and choice using targets that range from individual humans and social groups to consumer goods. Experiment 1 demonstrated an implicit preference to buy goods from the first salesperson encountered and to join teams encountered first, even when the difference in encounter is mere seconds. In Experiment 2 the first of two consumer items presented in quick succession was more likely to be chosen. In Experiment 3 an alternative hypothesis that first position merely accentuates the valence of options was ruled out by demonstrating that first position enhances preference for the first even when it is evaluatively negative in meaning (a criminal). Together, these experiments demonstrate a “first is best” effect and we offer possible interpretations based on evolutionary mechanisms of this “bound” on rational behavior and suggest that automaticity of judgment may be a helpful principle in clarifying previous inconsistencies in the empirical record on the effects of order on preference and choice.

There's something to be said for managing what you see first. For example, when shopping for some kind of item you might want to make the first thing you look at be something unappealing. That way you'll reject it and therefore consider all the remaining items more objectively.

Put first what you want people to choose.

The authors say their findings may have practical applications in a variety of settings including in consumer marketing.

"The order of individuals performing on talent shows like American Idol. The order of potential companies recommended by a stockbroker. The order of college acceptance letters received by an applicant. All of these firsts have privileged status," says Carney. "Our research shows that managers, for example in management or marketing, may want to develop their business strategies knowing that first encounters are preferable to their clients or consumers."

The study found that especially in circumstances under which decisions must be made quickly or without much deliberation, preferences are unconsciously and immediately guided to those options presented first. While there are sometimes rational reasons to prefer firsts, e.g. the first resume is designated on the top of the pile because that person wanted the job the most, Carney says the "first is best" effect suggests that firsts are preferred even when completely unwarranted and irrational.

The study's first experiment asked 123 participants to evaluate three groups: (a) two teams, (b) two male salespersons, and (c) two female salespersons. First, participants were asked to join one of the two teams and were introduced to the Hadleys and the Rodsons. Immediately following the introduction, they decided which team to join. Next, participants were told they were buying a car and introduced to two male salespersons: Jim and Jon. Immediately following the introduction, they selected the salesperson from whom they preferred to buy a car. Finally, participants were told they needed to re-make their car-buying decision and that they would be introduced to two new salespersons; this time, female: Lisa and Lori. After sequential introduction they, again, decided which person they'd like to buy a car from.

We've got so many biases built into our reasoning ability it is amazing we do as well as we do.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 July 02 10:37 PM  Brain Economics

Lono said at July 3, 2012 8:42 AM:

I just don't understand how so many Humans out there even operate with such low level awareness. I have really never been unduly influenced by any of these often found cognitive biases that researches identify so frequently these days. Advertising has NO effect on me except to inform me of a products existence. I have no brand loyalty whatsoever. I never purchase items for their purported status signaling.

I just feel like I live in a world most populated by virtual zombies... Even in Hiqh IQ societies like Mensa and Prometheus I regularly see such ignorance and basic Pavlovian conditioning...

I would love to have a way to find and identify those of our species - who like me - and I'm sure many of our readers here - are not so easily manipulated. Great things could be done by such a group imho.

PacRim Jim said at July 3, 2012 8:51 AM:

The human brain evolved with just enough firepower to keep us alive long enough to reproduce.
Anything more will require a full redesign.
There would be sacrifices, however, such as our humanity.

Conrad Baylor said at July 3, 2012 3:31 PM:

Lono said: Advertising has NO effect on me except to inform me of a products existence. I have no brand loyalty whatsoever. I never purchase items for their purported status signaling.

Very interesting. You obviously have no unconscious or subconscious mind; your every motive is consciously accessible to you.

What planet did you say you're from?

Person of Choler said at July 3, 2012 3:35 PM:

So how wide a sampling of the human race was included in the group of experimental subjects? My guess: they were university students, most of them majors in non-STEM subjects. Am I wrong?

pestilential said at July 3, 2012 4:27 PM:

They taught us this in Psych 101 lo these many years ago.
If the choice must be made quickly, you tend to choose the thing you encountered first. If there's a lot of time to deliberate, you tend to choose the last-encountered thing.
Or so the textbook said. At any rate it's not a new discovery, so there's probably more experimental evidence out there somewhere.

Jim Nelems said at July 3, 2012 5:10 PM:

That is why in consumer preference tests, first and second positions must be rotated,. If there is no difference, testers will always prefer the first product evslusted.

JorgXMcKie said at July 3, 2012 5:55 PM:

Every good salesman quickly learns to put his preferred deal to the customer first. I'm guessing, based on experience, that this sets a baseline for judging, if one has to, later alternative choices. Thus, a good salesman will 'know' about how much 'better' [more expensive or profitable or whatever is good for the salesman] a first choice to offer, thus raising the bar on the judgment and pretty much automatically making what would otherwise perhaps be the customer's preferred choice look 'shabby'.

I have also used the "negative sale" by making my first offer [back in the day] something I believed was just out of the customer's preferred price range [usually by 10-15%] and presenting it as "this is what most [really good adjective here -"savvy" or "upscale" or whatever seems appropriate] buyers prefer, but I'm guessing it's not for you." This almost *always* "puts their back up" [how dare you judge what I'm like] and sometimes even moves them to a more preferable salesman's choice, just to show the salesman "who makes the decisions."

IOW, maybe they should talk to some really good commission-only sales people.

RobertArvanitis said at July 3, 2012 6:34 PM:

To quote Ben Grimm, " 'nuff said" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framing_effect_%28psychology%29

CA Holly said at July 4, 2012 6:05 PM:

Political scientists and public opinion researchers have known of this effect for a long time. As such many horse race polls will be administered by callers who are instructed to alternate the order of candidates' names. For instance, in a survey with 1000 respondents, 500 respondents will be asked if they favor Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, and the other half will be asked if they favor Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Moving said at July 6, 2012 3:12 AM:

People are immitators or tend to be influenced by the so called "leaders of opinion"- when we are unfamiliar with a service or product we are instinctively seraching to hear the opinion of people who already tried it. Not to mention that in UK for example the best advertisement is the recommendation system considered to be the most reliable one.

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