24 October, 2020

Cognitive dissonance

 I recently watched a thought provoking video by Stephen B.R.E. Brown from his YouTube channel. It's titled, "Why Are We attracted to Expensive Pens?"

In the video he goes beyond a simple explanation to the question in its title. He delves deeper. He offers a few answers to the question, whether or not they stack up logically, and how we sometimes rationalize our decisions when they don't make sense. The thoughts he shares apply to all manner of things; not just pens. I recommend watching it.

When Stephen discussed how people rationalize their choices, he used the term "cognitive dissonance". It's a state in which our actions are inconsistent with our thoughts. Being a pen enthusiast, he uses the purchase of expensive pens as an example. It wasn't long until I started to recall other examples that I've seen. I found it interesting to note how common this behaviour is.

People often buy things that they want but don't truly need, then justify the purchase to themselves or others by focusing on how it was on sale. In reinforcing how the purchase was better value than it would have normally been, the mind is associating a more agreeable value to the item purchased, resulting in less buyer's remorse.

Stephen briefly uses cars as another example in his video. Thanks to the time that I've spent working in car sales, I can relate to that example quite well. When we are thinking about buying a car and considering a number of vehicles, we are performing a series of value judgements about each of them. And sometimes the value that we assign to a car doesn't really stack up. If we look at cars as purely functional things, as transportation from one place to another, then sometimes the more luxurious features of a car aren't all that important. Sure, soft touch finishes are nicer than scratchy plastics. And ventilated seats are nice in the warm weather, but it's hard to make a case for them to be truly essential. Yet it's features like these that many people desire, and will do what they can to rationalize away the price tag. So, should we turn our eyes away from the finer things in life, and pursue only that which is functionally imperative?

I can't answer that question for you. We all value things differently. It comes down to affordability, and what drives the desire for the object. Is it comfort? Or status? Maybe an appreciation for craftsmanship? It's hard to put an accurate value on things while keeping our desires out of the equation. But perhaps it's not about the price of something, rather the value in the experience that it allows. The stories we tell each other, and the memories that we create, often involve the money that we spent. Sometimes the financially responsible thing to do is stay home and eat two minute noodles. But those aren't the times we remember; we remember the expensive holidays and overpriced meals that we shared with the people that we love.

If you would like to see more of Stephen's content, his site can be found at: https://www.sbrebrown.com/

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