Choice-Supportive Bias

by | Jul 23, 2018


I was recently in the market for a new car and considered four different alternatives before making my choice. Since then, when I see one of the three car models I didn’t choose I’ve noticed that I tell myself how glad I am that I didn’t choose that other car and about how happy I am with the car I selected. This is especially true with the runner up. This type of thinking is very common and is called “Choice-Supportive Bias.”

Choice-Supportive Bias is the tendency to recall the positive attributes of options we choose, often failing to remember the negative aspects, and conversely, to remember the negative attributes of the rejected options more than the positive aspects of those rejected options. Choice-Supportive Bias is a defense mechanism that supports our sense of well-being by protecting us from regret. However, according to this study “it is problematic for memory accuracy, for accountability, and for learning from past experience.” Choice-Supportive Bias is a form of memory distortion and studies have found that it occurs more as we age and we rely on familiarity more to make choices.

An interesting example from the study noted above:  researchers gave subjects a choice between job candidates, each having four positive and four negative attributes. Later, the subjects recalled more positive attributes of their chosen hire and more negative attributes of the rejected candidate.

Brand loyalty is partially explained by choice-supportive bias. We tend to buy the same brand of things partially because we’ve justified to ourselves what a good choice we made when we bought that brand to begin with. (Case in point – my chosen car was a BMW, my fourth BMW in a row.)

Luxury items are especially prone to choice-supportive bias. Because they are not needed (because they by definition are “luxuries”) our subconscious spends more effort justifying the purchase. So, for example, we tend to be raving fans of our $400 iWatch because we’ve spent a big chunk of money on something that was not a necessity.

Choice-supportive bias also plays a role in politics. When you’ve chosen a candidate to vote for you are much more likely to remember the negative aspects of the competing candidates against whom you voted.

A really interesting point is that studies have found where subjects are assigned options (rather than given a choice) they remember positive and negative attributes of the assigned options in a balanced way and thus there is no evidence of Choice-Supportive Bias.

After I read about Choice-Supportive Bias years ago I’ve noticed that I do this all the time! A final point – in researching Choice-Supportive Bias I found hundreds of websites that discussed this bias in the context of HELPING companies have a higher sales conversion rate. For example, on Convertize’s website they helpfully note: Choice-supportive bias has applications in web-marketing, for example to get your customers to attribute positive features to your brand and products, and even negative ones to others. For example, a strategy can be to show previously visited pages and bought items to your visitors (in other words remind them that they have already “chosen” you).


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