100 Things You Should Know About People: #45 — You Choose (And Vote For) The First One On The List

ballotIt’s almost election time here in the USA, and there are many hotly contested elections at local, state, and national levels. Who will you vote for? According to the research, you are likely to vote for the first person that appears on the ballot!

The order effect – In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?, I write about the “order effect”. You go to a website to buy a tent for camping. You answer some questions about the type of camping you plan to do. The site then recommends four tents that best match your use, and compares the tents based on 10 attributes (how waterproof they are, how much they weigh, how much air ventilation they have, and so on). Two of the tents are “best buys” for the attributes that are important to you. Which tent will you buy?

Order effect at websites -- Felfernig (2007) set up a research study to find out. Even though there were 10 attributes that the tents were compared on, participants focused only on two or three attributes. The researchers varied the order in which the tents appeared on the page: first, second, third, or fourth. It turns out that the most important attribute was not whether the tent was waterproof or if it had plenty of air ventilation. The most important attribute was the order in which the tents appeared on the page! Participants disregarded attributes and simply picked whichever tent was the first one to show. People picked the first tent 2.5 times more than any other. They chose the first tent 200 times; they chose the other three tents (combined) only 60 times. This is an example of the order effect.

We rationalize the choice – The participants explained their choice, however, based on the logical decisions they thought they were making. For example, they explained the choice of tent #1 by saying, “This tent is the most waterproof.” They thought they were weighing all the attributes of all the tents, but in reality they were considering only a few attributes, and even those attributes didn’t matter. All that mattered was an unconscious reaction to which tent showed up first.

The first name on the ballot – According to research by Marc Meredith and Yuvall Salant, the same order effect influences who you vote for. In a wide range of elections, and with order randomized for different elections, Meredith and Salant found that in one out of every 10 elections, the first name on the ballot will win just because it’s first. They also calculated that being in the middle of the list lowers your chance of winning by 2.5 percentage points.

So which position candidate are you going to vote for!

Thanks to the blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree for drawing my attention to this research.

For more information on the Meredith and Sulant research: Kellogg Insight Focus On Research

For the tent research:

Felfernig, A., g. Friedrich, B. Gula, M. Hitz, T. Kruggel, G. Leitner, R. Melcher, D. Riepan, S. Strauss, E. Teppan, and O. Vitouch. 2007. Persuasive recommendation: Serial position effects in knowledge-based recommender systems. In Persuasive Technology, Second International Conference on Persuasive Technology. New York: Springer.

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Posted in decision-making, neuro web design, psychology, unconscious, voting
4 comments on “100 Things You Should Know About People: #45 — You Choose (And Vote For) The First One On The List
  1. Marco says:

    This article has been translated in Italian here: http://bit.ly/biwFLo

  2. home teater says:

    Superb write-up. Thanks.

  3. Jelzmar says:

    When I vote, I know who I’m voting for before I walk in to place my vote. Now I’m feeling like my votes are wasted, because people just choose by position.

  4. TaVe says:

    Just 2 days ago, I was watching a speed-run of a video game. When I watched the same run next to another person’s speed-run, I noticed I was sort-of rooting for the person I saw 1st claiming they were better overall even though they did it slower. And I knew it was because I saw their video 1st. >.<
    My brother had similar feelings saying that he wanted the 1st person to do another speed-run. When I asked him why he cared and if it had anything to do with the fact that he saw their clip 1st, he seemed to agree that it was just the order effect.

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I'm a Ph.D. psychologist and I write and videoblog about how to apply psychology and brain science research to understand how people think, work, and behave. For more information about me and about the Weinschenk Institute, check out the the Team W website.

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
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