Let's do a little experiment to see if you have the distinction bias. Choose between these two possibilities:
Option 1: You will receive a chocolate bar if you think about a particularly positive moment in your life.
Option 2: You will receive three chocolate bars if you think about a time in your life when you experienced personal failure.
What you choose?
If you're like two-thirds of people, you're probably picking the latter, as a study conducted at the University of Chicago found. Most people believe it is the best alternative because they believe that having more chocolate will make them happier.
However, the researchers found those who chose to activate a negative memory to receive more chocolate were much more unhappy than those who chose the positive memory.
This inability to make decisions is not exceptional. It happens all the time, even when we have to make important decisions in life. And it is due to the distinction bias.
What is the distinction bias?
Traditionally, it has always been assumed that people know what they like and that they choose what is best for them based on the information they have at the time. But is not so. There is often a huge gap between our prediction of happiness and what actually makes us happy, which leads to bad decisions.
Distinction bias refers to the thought process we use to make those decisions. It is the tendency to overestimate small quantitative differences when we have to compare different possibilities. In practice, we simplify the pros and cons by focusing too much on the unimportant details, which prevents us from seeing the big picture.
Confrontation mode versus experience mode
The trap that leads us to fall into the distinction bias is that our brains work differently when it comes to comparing possibilities than when we experience them. When we have to choose, our brain automatically enters "comparison mode". This makes it more sensitive to the small differences that exist between the different options.
But when we live our decisions, the brain broadens its horizon and works in "experience mode". He understands that it is not necessary to compare the experience that a choice can offer but only to live it in its uniqueness. If so, we take more factors into account and can focus more on our happiness and satisfaction level.
Bowling Green State University psychologists found that "people differentiate between possibilities more when they consider them simultaneously than when they see them separately." When we analyze each alternative individually, we are able to see it in a more holistic way.
For example, when we go to a store and see two TVs next to each other, the difference in quality can seem very large, although both models have quite similar characteristics. As a result, we are likely to be more willing to pay a higher price for a higher quality TV, although in reality this difference in quality is barely noticeable if we watch each TV separately.
The consequences of the distinction bias
Not being aware of the distinction bias can lead us to make very bad decisions in life. It can lead us to believe, for example, that we will be happier if we buy a house of 150 square meters than one of 100.
The problem is that when we analyze two options at the same time, we look for a common factor that serves as a standard for comparison. The bias of distinction appears when we consider a single variable and this is not even that important for the next experience.
Imagine, for example, having to choose between a monotonous job in which we will earn 40.000 euros per year or a more demanding position in which we will earn 30.000. With an eye to our happiness, we can focus on all the things that we could buy with those extra 10.000 euros that would make us happier.
But let's overlook the fact that spending 8 hours a day on monotonous work could create such boredom and frustration that it isn't compensated for by the little happiness the extra money can bring.
The distinction bias also poses another trap: it leads us to want more and more. But this, far from being rewarding or making us happy, can generate more stress.
If we believe we will be happier in a bigger house, with a higher quality television or a more modern cell phone, we will have to work harder to get them, which could lead us to sacrifice our happiness here and now, in pursuit of a chance. which is actually neither more satisfying nor more rewarding.
3 keys to avoiding the distinction bias
1. Determine what's essential for you before comparing
Many times, people who try to sell us something use the distinction bias to convince us to choose the most expensive product, even if we don't need it or it makes us happier. Therefore, before choosing, it is convenient that you have a clear understanding of your needs and the essential features you are looking for.
Start with the concept of hedonistic adjustment, according to which you will end up getting used to things relatively quickly, so that what makes you very happy today will not make you happy forever. With that in mind, a cheaper or modest option that involves less stress is likely to perfectly suit your needs and give you the same happiness or even more of a more expensive or hard-to-get chance.
2. Analyze each possibility individually
When we enter "comparison mode" we consume a large part of our cognitive resources in search of the difference between the options. Then we can end up in a dead end where we give too much weight to irrelevant quantitative differences.
To avoid this bias, you should simply avoid comparing options at the same time. Instead, look at each alternative individually. If it comes to choosing a home, for example, you shouldn't compare different properties but rather focus on what you like about each one, so you can imagine the experience when you live there.
3. Set benchmarks
Our brain is a great energy saver. He tends to prefer the easier routes, so we will tend to focus on the more obvious things. Also, once we take that path, we have a hard time turning back.
Therefore, when analyzing the different options, it is convenient to broaden the horizon and take into account as many factors as possible. In the case of the house, for example, do not consider only the price or the square meters, also take into account its location, the sensations that the property transmits, the characteristics of the neighborhood and the lifestyle it could offer you.
If you take these 3 keys into consideration, you can analyze each possibility more holistically and choose the one that can really make you happier in the short and long term.