how to grab peoples attention; cognitive biases

How to get people’s attention (hacking cognitive biases)

Have you ever wondered why our clients ignore certain things and focus on others? Why is that if one person wants a certain product, all the others in the group want the same? Or, why do some clients never fail to make negative remarks, while conveniently ignoring all positive ones?

Well, science says that this is not their fault. Our clients are well-meaning, beautiful human beings, but the spoilsport is a certain evolutionary tool called “Cognitive bias”.

Cognitive bias

Human brain is the most mesmerizing creation ever known to us. Scientists have spent decades studying it, and would, probably, spend another decade before unraveling its mysteries, completely. With years of evolution behind it, the human brain has not only become bigger, faster and better, but it has also become more efficient at managing its limited resources (like, processing power). And, part of its efficiency is due to the tool called Cognitive bias.

Cognitive bias is a tool used by human beings to simplify decision making.

Mr Buster Benson suggests there are four categories of Cognitive biases:

Category 1: Biases used to filter out information.

As of 2014, Google had 200 Terabytes (TB) of data. (1 TB = 1024 GB.) And, that’s just 0.004% of the total Internet! In order to avoid information overload, our brain tends to filter out portions of information and accept only those portions that conform with our core beliefs and values (personal culture). Some pointers that our brain use are as follows:

  • Things that are out of the ordinary. (Who doesn’t like surprises? Eg: Ads that are visually appealing, funny, bizarre, etc. grab our attention.)
  • Things that are similar to what we already know. (Eg: Ever heard your neighbourhood shopkeeper say, “This new product is similar to the one you bought last year, but better!”?)
  • We notice when things change. (Eg: When someone is being extra nice to us, we become cautious.)

Category 2: Biases that help in making sense of all the information.

When people believe in something, they are able to do it “effortlessly”. Take the case of the Apple brand. Consumers are willing to stand in lines and pay exorbitant prices to grab Apple products. The reason why they are so motivated to do this is because of their strong belief in the brand.

  • We are great at recognizing patterns even out of limited data. (When a man exhibits a couple of traits of a particular culture, we instantly identify him with the culture.)
  • We fill up gaps in information with assumptions. (When we do something for others, we must explicitly mention why we are doing it, as it is dangerous to leave people to their assumptions.)
  • We believe that the things and people that we like are always better as compared to others. (We may have liked someone play good football, several years back. But, that should not be the basis of taking that person in our team, today.)

Category 3: Biases that help to act, fast.

As a species, we would not have survived without an ability to act fast, at times of trouble. In fact, almost all the biases are designed to help us act fast.

  • We are confident of our ability to make an impact. (Smokers think they will never face health problems because they believe they are outliers.)
  • We values things in the present than that would be available in the future. (EMI payments makes use of this bias.)
  • We choose what others have chosen. (This bias relies on the “wisdom of the crowd” concept.)
  • We would rather do the quick, simpler task when compared to important, complicated task. (A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.)

Category 4: Biases that save memories for future reference.

All our memories and experiences, along with the assumptions that we squeezed in, form our mental models. These are used as future references for biases, and the cycle repeats, itself.

  • We prefer generalizations over specifics because they take up less space. (Thoughtful summaries may be important while sharing content with your clients.)
  • We reduce events and lists to their key elements. (State key points, apart from the detailed information, so that clients would know what to focus on.)
  • We will only store information that is deemed important at the time of receiving that information. (Pitch to clients when they are in the best of their moods.)

Essentially, our cognitive biases are developed to get things done faster making use of the available resources.


Travel transports me to some euphoric placetime. Once there, I, almost, only, meet beautiful people; see places that fill me with pure bliss; and face experiences that inspire me to be more of myself. Then I go back home and write about them. Email: thehoboist[at]gmail[dot]com

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