Why do we buy more things than we need?

Your six-year-old son asks you to buy him a bicycle and you, who have not yet received your monthly pay, refuse. But there are other reasons to justify your decision: this month has overtaken the cost of the bank card, and has not yet weighed the pros and cons of buying a bike for your toddler. .

But as you well know, the child can be very pushy. Over and over he asks her, begs her, begs her to buy him a bike. But it seems that with each new negative answer you give, the child, far from discouraging and forgetting the initiative, comes back to the charge with more force.

Each new attack of your little child is a little more irritating than the last and you feel like you are starting to cross your threshold of patience.

After a long and tedious process, the child begins to show signs of understanding and ends up accepting that he was not going to have the bike; he chooses to ask her with his most beautiful angel face: “Well, will you buy me some chocolate then?”

How could he refuse such an insignificant order? Of course, in this context, you decide to buy him a chocolate.

The million dollar question is, would he have bought his son’s chocolate if he had asked for it in the first place, instead of the bike? Preferably not.

Are we buying what we don’t need? Community services

In one experiment, a psychology teacher asked his students if they would be willing to work two hours a week for free for the next two years as part of a rehabilitation program for juvenile offenders. Of course, no one accepted. Accessing such an order was a little less than immolating in life.

But then the teacher came back with a smaller, much more reasonable order. This time, he asked his students if they would be willing to accompany a group of young delinquents on a two-hour walk in the zoo, volunteering for the trip to the zoo, without exaggerating prior order.

What happened? So from this second group, 17% agreed, compared to 50% of the first group, which had previously been ordered disproportionately.

The resemblance of these cases

It should be noted that in the two proposed cases, the modest order remains unchanged.. The chocolate that our son wanted and the walk in the zoo that the teacher demanded in front of his students do not change.

However, as strange as it may seem, the presence of a much more demanding first order, so inappropriate that in all probability it would be rejected, markedly increased the chances of a positive response to a second request, which was much more discreet. . . And maybe this is due, in part, to the contrast that is generated between the two commands.

Relativity beyond Einstein

Sometimes the brain does not get along very well with absolute concepts; in order to determine whether something is big or small, right or wrong, it must be guided by a benchmark. In our examples, the first command is a good point of comparison, accessible to the brain, at hand.

Relativity is the key. And the money spent on a chocolate, compared to the expense of a bicycle, seems insignificant that it is not worth analyzing in depth. Likewise, a two-hour visit to the zoo appears to be a much smaller order than it actually is, compared to two years of unpaid labor.

Public image

Another reason that may contribute to this blatant absurdity may be the need to show oneself to others as an inherently good person, cooperative, or predisposed to the needs of others. Certainly or not, we are all more or less concerned by the image we convey.

We have no problem rejecting an order that seems absurd to us because we consider that we run no risk of being judged negatively. But when the order of collaboration is reasonable, and especially if we said no the first time around, we find it much harder to resist the fear of being seen as selfish, individualistic, or something worse, which attacks our reputation. or our good reputation.

Even more, contrast stains our perceptions and causes us to exaggerate the differences between the objects the brain compares. Of course, this is not something we do consciously. Many times the contrast is generated by adjacency in time; that is to say between two stimuli presented successively, as in the previous example of the child first asking for a bicycle and a chocolate later. It is a singular phenomenon to which we succumb definitively and which has serious implications for the way we see the world.

If a six-year-old child, and still unwittingly, can handle in this way, there are also a lot of cunning sellers who have no problem openly manipulating us.

Shopping and handling: a few more examples

You go to a store because you need a new pair of shoes. If the salesperson dealing with you has experience in the field, it is very likely that you will first be presented with a pair of high quality reinforced leather shoes, imported from the Principality of Luxembourg, and at a very high price.

Then, and as soon as a negative expression of discouragement appears on his face, the salesman will hurry to show him another pair of shoes, also of excellent workmanship, he says, but at a higher price. Economical that, depending on the contrast generated, you should perceive it as much cheaper than it actually is.

With the first offer, the seller will set a comparison parameter, an initial price that will function as an “anchor” from a perceptual and psychological point of view. Mentally tied to this starting point, the price of the second pair of shoes, which is undoubtedly what the store employee has wanted to sell from the start, will seem much lower than it actually is.

It should be made clear that following the reverse procedure, ie showing them “cheap” shoes as soon as you step into the shoe store, and “expensive” ones afterwards, is a terrible strategy. which harms the interests of the seller, already having set an “anchor” price below, and that it will function as a model of comparison for everything that may be offered later, will only serve to collect the customer as a measure of what could be normal a priori values ​​and agreements in the section selling shoes.

Car dealers are constantly using this psychological trick to sell us things that weren’t really in our purchasing plans.

The relative price of cars

When we buy a new car, and once the paperwork is done, the price of the vehicle becomes the point we mentally refer to when the seller starts offering us, one by one, which will likely end up being an accessory cataract.

“For just $ 100 more, you can have automatic window regulators,” the seller explains. And we think that’s a great idea. After all, we just bought a vehicle for $ 15,000 … and $ 100 seems like a big deal to us. Of course, once we accept, the seller will offer us the inclusion of a music player for only $ 200 more. A good deal, we think.

And then, washable leather upholstered seats, an additional state-of-the-art GPS, and a whole battery of insurance and extended warranties for figures that will seem contemptible to us compared to the original value of the car; this without counting the ten taxes which are added and which were never mentioned to us the first time.

What if we have to buy a dress?

Well, the seller who knows the human brain makes value judgments based on comparison, or at least the hunch, once we pay a fair amount of money for the pants, will offer us a shirt. appropriate, which combines perfection.

And then a tie; after all, a dress without a tie is an incomplete dress. But only in the second case, once the price of the dress has established itself in our minds as a point of reference that constitutes the measure for everything that comes after.

Beauty and attraction

As if that wasn’t enough, we apply the same criteria to people’s perception of beauty. Suppose, in case you are male and heterosexual, I show you the photo of a woman. I let him look at the photo closely and then ask him to rate how much he likes this woman by rating it from 1 to 10.

Surely, your appreciation for the feminine beauty that you have just seen is subject to the pattern of comparison that you find in your mind right now.

There are many studies in which it has been observed that men place much more importance on a woman’s beauty. if before they were leafing through a fashion magazine saturated with images of models when they had to wait to participate in the experiment, compared to the assessment made by another group of men, who were asked to be entertained looking at an old newspaper.

The same phenomenon has also been observed when men, before having to give an aesthetic score to a woman, are invited to watch a television program featuring actresses of recognized beauty. After being exposed to a young woman of extraordinary beauty, men tend to underestimate ordinary female beauty, even if beauty in the end.


In summary. The brain has trouble thinking and making decisions in absolute termsYou still need a benchmark, which functions as an accessible comparison parameter.

We know if something is good or bad, big or small, expensive or cheap, by basically looking around us, analyzing the context in which we find ourselves, and comparing the object that interests us to something another which, of course, belongs to the same Category.

The problem lies in the large number of crooks who intuitively know this curious property of the brain and use it to swindle us or sell us things that, under a colder and more rational analysis, we would realize we do not want or want. don’t need to buy. .

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