The Why #74: Why is car insurance a no-brainer while health insurance is so-so?

4 min readOct 19, 2023

By Dan Monheit 19.10.23

From Julia, Ashburton

Well Julia, the short answer on this one is ‘the law’, given that you can’t drive in Australia without having some sort of car insurance. But let’s be honest, nobody emails the catchall address of a critically acclaimed, globally revered newsletter looking for a short answer.

Let’s drive in.

Feelings are a funny thing. Car insurance (even the fancy ‘comprehensive’ type), does tend to feel like something we should pony up for if we can. At the same time, health insurance, especially in our younger, carefree, invincible days feels like a luxury we can probably do without. Even if it does come with cheaper pilates classes.

How is it that safeguarding a metal box outranks safeguarding our bodies and minds (AKA the thing that operates the metal box)? Have we completely lost our minds?

The Self-Serving Bias

The Self-Serving bias is our tendency to attribute our successes to our personal abilities and efforts while attributing failures to external factors or by blaming others.

For example, we might cite our hard work and creativity as the reasons we just won an award for a brilliant campaign, while blaming the clearly biassed judges or the unfair judging criteria for previous losses.

A piece of research by Peter De Michele and Bruce Gansneder in the late 90’s set out to study the Self-Serving Bias by conducting an experiment using Division One collegiate wrestlers. The group of wrestlers were asked to self-analyse their performance from their pre-season matches and consider what they believed attributed to the results of each match.

Of course, the wrestlers who won more often were far more likely to attribute their wins to their own skills and abilities. But for the wrestlers who lost, there was a much higher likelihood of blaming referees, facilities, unfair techniques from their opponents and a wide range of other external factors. Clearly, it wasn’t their fault, and who’s arguing with an angry Division One wrestler?

But back to you, Julia. And back to insurance. Knowing about the Self-Serving Bias, It’s not surprising we’ve got our act together when it comes to car insurance, home & contents insurance and even travel insurance. These are all products that keep us safe from bad luck and problems caused by the incompetence or ill-intent of others.

Our health though? Oh that’s completely different. We’re taking care of business and as long as we’re in control of our own bodies, nothing bad is coming our way. Not pulling hammies from not stretching. Not declining fitness from too much Netflix. And certainly not a dislocated knee from a few too many drinks before heading downstairs.

For brands, the Self-Serving Bias confirms the idea that people love to feel good about themselves and happily disregard proof points to the contrary. Consider ways you can enhance positive self-perception and reinforce what people already believe about themselves, knowing we’re drawn to this type of messaging. Alternatively, look for creative ways to help customers come to their own realisation that there’s far more out of their control — especially when it comes to health — than they might realise. Just try avoiding the flu — I dare you!

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can see why people on Marketplace expect me to pay so much for their junk here.

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