Distinction Bias: Making Bad Life Choices


In comparison mode, we’re pretty good at deciding between qualitative differences. For example, we know that an interesting job is better than a boring one or that being able to walk to work is better than having to suffer driving in rush hour traffic.

When I asked you to pick between Options 1 or 2, you likely could have told me recalling a personal success story would feel better than recalling a failure. So why do people choose Option 2? For more chocolates of course! And that’s where things get sticky.

Humans are not very good at predicting how quantitative differences, those involving numbers, affect happiness. In the experiment, people assumed three Hershey Kisses worth of chocolate would bring them three times the happiness. But it didn’t.

We make the same mistake in real life all the time. We think a 1,200 square foot home will make us happier than a 1,000 square foot home. We think earning $70,000 a year will make us happier than earning $60,000 a year.

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