The Why #47: Why does this feel like the longest, coldest winter ever?
By Dan Monheit 29.07.22
Question submitted by Stephen, Williamstown
Brrrrrr! I hear the chatter in your teeth Stephen, and can assure you, you’re not alone.
I’m sure you, like me, are sick of donning snow gear every time you leave home. Your black puffer vest has been on for longer than your home heater, and you swear you haven’t set foot in sunlight since 2012.
As if that’s not bad enough, the endless winter is everywhere you look. Radio announcers delight in telling us that it’s the coldest morning in a decade. Your socials are jammed with people either complaining about the cold or sunning themselves on a beach in Europe somewhere. Every conversation with friends, family, colleagues and baristas start with how freezing it is right now.
Surely this is the longest, coldest winter ever!
Or is it something else?
Focusing Illusion refers to our tendency to concentrate on a single aspect of our lives to the exclusion of all others. In other words, whatever you happen to be focusing on has a funny way of becoming the most important thing to consider.
In 1988, psychologists David A. Schkade and Daniel Kahneman turned their attention squarely towards Focusing Illusion. The pair gathered participants for a study that was said to be looking at the impact of climate on people’s happiness. Spoiler alert, this is not what they were studying at all.
In the experiment, each participant was asked to rate their expected happiness if they moved to sunny California, as well as their expected happiness if instead they moved to the Midwest (still lovely, but famous for wind more than sunshine).
What Schkade and Kahneman found was that participants overwhelmingly believed they would be happier in California. Sure, the activities, access to nature, community life and other common sources of joy were similar in the two locations, but what about that sunshine!
From here, the researchers looked at the actual happiness of people living in the two locations and found them to be almost identical. Focusing on the weather made it feel like this would be the major contributor to happiness, when in reality, it was a myriad of other factors including relationships with family and friends that made all the difference. Unless people were thinking deeply about it, weather was just the background.
Which brings us back to our current Ice Age…
The relentless news cycle, breaking of obscure climate records and endless complaining causes us to focus on how cold it is more than we really should. Just like the participants in the study, all of this focus causes us to completely overweight the importance and severity of what we’re dealing with. As Kahneman perfectly explains; ‘Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it’.
Brands can tap into Focusing Illusion by aligning what they’re selling with what’s top of mind for the audience. For most products, there are dozens of attributes a customer could focus on. Identifying what’s most important — or better yet, helping customers decide what’s most important — will put you in the box seat when it comes time to buy. See you in six months for ‘Why does this feel like the longest, hottest summer ever?’.
PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check why vacations never go to plan here.
Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about Focusing Illusion on episode 14 of the Bad Decisions podcast.
Got a question?
Is there something you’ve always wondered about?
Send it through to AskDan@hardhat.com.au
Want more? Join Dan Monheit as he hosts the Amazon Ads Studio, broadcasting Advertising Week APAC on the 2nd and 3rd of August. Register here.