Two Mental Processes In Decision-Making

Two Mental Processes In Decision-Making

There are two fundamentally different mental processes at work in choice decisions. We have already considered the most obvious one, the weighing up of alternatives. But there is another process that consumers and advertisers tend to be less conscious of. Weighing up the alternatives is one thing. Which alternatives get weighed up is another! Which alternatives get weighed up?

What determines the alternatives that are actually considered?

Think about a consumer decision that you probably make every day. It’s getting on for noon, you are feeling hungry and you ask yourself, ‘What am I going to have for lunch today?’ Your mind starts to generate alternatives and evaluate each alternative as you think of it. The process goes something

like this:

• ‘Will I have a salad? No, I had a salad yesterday.’

• ‘A sandwich? No, the sandwich store is too far away and besides, it’s raining.’

• ‘I could drive to McDonald’s. Yes . . . I’ll do that.’

There are two things to note here. First, what the mind does is produce alternatives, one at a time. This ‘mental agenda’ of alternatives is ordered like this:

What’s the choice for lunch?

1. Salad

2. Sandwich

3. McDonald’s

4. TGI Friday’s

5. Subway

Second, the order in which the alternatives are arranged is the order in which they are elicited by the mind. This order can influence your final choice. You may enjoy Subway more than McDonald’s. But in the example, you didn’t go to Subway, you went to McDonald’s. Had you continued your thought process instead of stopping at the third alternative (McDonald’s), you would probably have gone to Subway. But if Subway is only fifth on your mental agenda of lunch alternatives, it is unlikely to get much of your business. You didn’t get to Subway because you didn’t think of it before you hit on a satisfactory solution—McDonald’s. You didn’t get there physically because you never got there mentally. Even if we like or prefer something, if it is not reasonably high on our mental agenda it is likely to miss out. How many times have you found yourself doing something and realized too late that there was something else you would rather have been doing but hadn’t thought about in time? The most preferred alternatives are not necessarily the ones you think of fi rst. (Anyone who has ever left an important person off an invitation list will appreciate this.) Next time you go out for dinner and are trying to decide which restaurant to go to, observe your thought pattern. There are two separate processes at work. One is generation of alternatives; the other is evaluation of those alternatives. To affect the outcome of buying decisions, advertisers can try to influence:

• the order in which the alternatives are evoked;

• the evaluation of a particular alternative; or

• both.

When we think of advertising’s effects we almost invariably think of how advertising influences our evaluation of a brand. Yet much of advertising’s influence is not on our evaluations of a brand but on the order in which alternative brands are evoked.

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