How I use SCIENCE to facilitate shopping with my wife

For starters, and for the sake of brevity, let me start by debunking a myth we all subconsciously have. We TRULY have NO IDEA why we like something or feel the way we feel about something or somebody !

Do you remember the last time you went shopping? Think of the dress you bought and explain your choice. I mean, take a paper and start jotting down your reasons. Invariably, what you say is not the actual reason. You are just fooling yourselves.

Here’s what Timothy Wilson, a researcher known for his work on introspection bias, has to offer:

People are notoriously bad at explaining their own preferences. In one study researchers asked several women to choose their favourite pair of nylon stockings from a group of twelve. After they made their selections the scientists asked them to explain their choices. The women mentioned things like texture, feel, and colour. All of the stockings, however, were identical. The women manufactured reasons for their choices, believing that they had conscious access to their preferences.

Let me explain.

The brain has two functional parts: the emotional brain and the logical brain. The emotional brain is rapid and its workings is often vague, not clearly accessible to the concious realm. The logical brain, on the other hand, is unrushed and capable of conscious reasoning. The emotional brain is what makes us fall for certain things, fall in love with a particular person, prefer a particular cafe etc. When asked to explain the choices or preferences, the part of the brain which is responsible for speech or writing seeks the logical brain for answers. The logical brain has no gateway to the reasoning of the emotional brain, and so, it creates its own version to avoid embarrassment.

Timothy Wilson again:

“That voice in your head spewing out eloquent reasons to do this or do that doesn’t actually know what’s going on, and it’s not particularly adept at getting you nearer to reality. Instead, it only cares about finding reasons that sound good, even if the reasons are actually irrelevant or false. (Put another way, we’re not being rational – we’re rationalizing.)”

In one of his famous poster test, two group of people were asked to choose a poster; one group was asked to reason their preferences while the other group had no obligations. The first group selected more of motivational or inspiring stuff so that they could easily come up with reasons for their preference. The other group selected more of creative and artistic stuff. Months later, the second group were more satisfied with the posters they had chosen.

So, the corollary, reasoning too much while choosing can result in dissatisfaction with the choices made.


So how I applied this to shopping with my wife?

  1. I demand no explanations for her choices not suggest no explanations why one choice would be better than the other when it comes to dresses, gifts, dolls etc.
  2. I give her the freedom to choose.
  3. I try to distract her while she tries to explain herself and try to reassure her that she should pick the one that makes her feel better.
  4. If we are on a budget constrain, I check with the executive for sections that would match our budget beforehand and choose for that so the issue of cost does not interfere with the choice.
  5. I accept her choices without judging them. I carefully watch my body language when I react. Even a small gesture indicating dissatisfaction can be read within milliseconds by her emotional brain even before the logical one looks for cues.

After all, isn’t the broadness of her smile I find the deepest of satisfaction!


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