Rotman Management

CONSIDER THIS: Option Awareness and the Psychology of What We Consider

THE STANDARD ECONOMIC VIEW SUGGESTS that people will commit to an action if the expected benefits outweigh the costs. But this model is incomplete in an important way: It overlooks how actions come to mind. Before you weigh the costs and benefits of an action, what cognitive processes lead you to think of it in the first place?

In this article we will show that actions are more likely to enter into consideration when they are cognitively accessible, and that accessibility depends on three psychological parameters: automaticity, identity and privacy. We believe this framework can inform new interventions to change a wide range of behaviours by making certain actions more (or less) cognitively accessible.

Automaticity and Reflection

In his 1992 Nobel lecture, Gary Becker described the personal story of how he came up with the economic model of crime. Becker was late to deliver an oral exam and was trying to park. He considered parking illegally near campus to save time, weighing the costs and probability of getting a ticket. In a sense, he asked, “Is it worth it to park illegally?”.

Other questions could have come to mind instead. For example, he might have asked, ‘Since I am late, should I change the format of the oral exam?’ From this question, parking illegally does not even come to mind as an

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