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Imagine you put on an old coat you haven’t worn in a while, and to your surprise find a crumpled $20 bill in your pocket. How good does it feel? Do you go up half a notch on a one to ten mood scale, or maybe a full notch?
Let’s imagine a different scenario. You’re buying ice cream from an ice cream cart, and take out a $20 bill to pay. Suddenly, a gust of wind sweeps it from your hand and into a nearby sewer grate. What does that do to your mood on the one-to-ten scale?
If you’re like most people, you feel much worse over losing $20 than about gaining $20. That tendency is called loss aversion, one among many dangerous judgment errors that behavioral scientists call cognitive biases.
Loss aversion is one of the three key reasons why our minds get sucked – and suckered – into Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Retailers know that our intuitive reaction is to avoid losses, with research showing this drive might be up to twice as powerful as the desire to make gains. By offering short-term sales, available only on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, they tap into our deep intuition to protect ourselves from the loss of the opportunity represented by the sale.
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Let’s imagine a different scenario. It’s Cyber Monday, and you decided to check out the deals on an e-commerce website. You go there, feeling confident you’ll only get one or two of the best deals.
But once you visit the website, you’re hooked. All those deals look great, with the prices so much lower than usual. You can’t pass them up! So you end up taking advantage of a bunch of deals, and purchase much more than you intended to in the first place.
Why did that happen? Why couldn’t you control yourself? It’s due to a cognitive bias called the restraint bias.
We substantially overestimate the extent to which we can restrain our impulses. In other words, we have less self-control and weaker willpower than we like to think we do.
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The final key psychological reason for why you get sucked into Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales is because you’re reading this article. Here’s the thing: the abundance of news stories, advertisements, and social media posts around Black Friday and Cyber Monday makes it seem like everyone is thinking about sales on those days and looking for good deals.
As a consequence, our minds drive us to jump on the bandwagon of getting into Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, a tendency that scientists call the bandwagon effect. When we perceive other people aligning around something, we are predisposed to join them. After all, they wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t a good idea, right?
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Loss aversion, restraint bias, and the bandwagon effect are mental blindspots that impact decision-making in all life areas, ranging from the future of work to mental fitness. By knowing about them, you can work to notice and address these problems.
For example, a useful strategy for Black Friday and Cyber Monday involves deciding in advance the purchases you’d like to make if they are on sale and buying them online instead of in the store. For example, you might decide to buy a certain laptop if it’s more than 20 percent off, or a specific big-screen TV if it’s 30 percent off. Save the website pages of the laptop or TV that you want to buy, and then visit them on Black Friday and Cyber Monday to see if they’re on sale. If they’re not, be disciplined, and don’t buy something else, as you’re likely to get stuck buying much more than you wanted. Instead, wait for the Christmas sale.