The Problem with Psychologists

Monday, October 10, 2016

It seems like I've been pointing out the foibles of everyone. I've written about folks ranging from physicists to real estate agents and even the great thinker himself Vin Diesel.

Today in celebration of World Mental Health Day, I'm going to turn my attention toward psychologists.

Though they are responsible for many notable contributions to society including the Skinner box and various forms of torture like waterboarding, I have come to believe that psychologists may not have the best interests of society at heart. In fact, I am beginning to believe that they might all be anarchists who are attempting to hasten the downfall of civilization.

As a behavioral economist, I try to keep abreast of psychological research, specifically analyses of psychological biases that can be exploited used to help businesses maximize their profits.

There is one bias that psychologists love to discuss. I speak, of course, of the just world hypothesis, a "foolish notion" that mental health professionals classify as a defect in their patients' thinking. It states that some people erroneously believe that the value of their actions should be correlated to the desirability of their outcomes.

Do you know another name for this bias? Capitalism. It's not only the basis for modern society, but a requirement for it to even exist at all. The less that people believe in the fallacy of the just world, the less likely they are to invest in society.

Although not scientifically derived, the table below provides an insight into the human psyche for varying levels of belief in the fallacy of the just world.

Understanding the effects of the fallacy of the just world
Certainty in the Just World Fallacy Outcome Thought Process
100% People invest wholeheartedly in society. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
90% People still invest in society. I'll eat right and exercise, but I'm still going to buy medical insurance.
51% People invest in society, as long as it doesn't require much effort. Since success is pretty random, that communism thing would let me work less.
40% People leech off society. Only suckers work for a living or invest in themselves.
10% People actively rebel against society. Why should we allow such a corrupt system to survive?

When psychologists try to attack the fallacy of a just world, they are systematically trying to remove the very system of beliefs that make civilization possible.

How does this rant relate to pricing?

Rather than following in the footsteps of modern psychology, your advertising should consider attempting to tie your products to the belief in this fallacy. It's no mistake that many advertisements attempt to tie not only their customers' self-worth to their products, but actually attempt to pitch their products as a well-deserved reward for their customers.

Framing your products as an attainable reward, completely within control of the buyer, is a fantastic means of taking advantage of the fallacy. L'Oreal understands this. Having cycled through a variety of slogans (such as because you're worth it), it has continued its history of business success and proved that not all marketing efforts are merely skin deep.