Wednesday, September 07, 2011

How fast can you decide?

Here is a fun one for the day back to work after a long weekend.

There has been a lot of research on the how fast people can make decisions given the easiest decision tasks.  So for example looking at a picture and deciding if there is an animal in it (not a hidden animal) or looking at two numbers are deciding which one is greater.  These take between 1/3 and 1/2 a second.

The fun part in this study was that they added an interesting twist.  What if they showed you two vending machine snacks and asked you which one you prefer.  In one way, this should be an easier task.  We didn’t know what kind of picture would appear or where the animal would be.  But I sure as heck know that I like Snickers better than Three Musketeers and Doritos better than potato chips.  But making a preference decision requires accessing another part of the brain.  And it takes longer.

More specifically, what they did was have subjects rate their preference for 50 different vending machine snacks on a 5 point scale.  Then they flashed them on a screen in pairs and asked them to pick the one they liked  better.  When they were close (a 1 next to a 2 or a 4 next to a 5) it took longer and they were more likely to make a mistake then when they were distant (a 1 next to a 5).  But it was still pretty fast.  Raising the accuracy by 10% required just an extra 1/6 of a second.

In all of these cases though, we are talking about less than a second.  So if you are a marketer, that is about how long it takes for people to look at your visualization and make a preference decision.  You have less than a second to grab their attention and be "preferred" or not.

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