The Decoy Effect – Why we seek simple answers and third candidates matter

Mankind = simple. There, I said it. But didn't we fly to the moon and invent paper towels? Agreed. But after reading this fascinating piece from the Washington Post you feel the legacy of the caveman within you.Ok, let's say someone gave you the choice to go to a nearby three star restaurant or to a five star gourmet temple that's far away: An inhumane brain-torturing dilemma – because the our brian, never mind Apollo Missions, seeks easy answers. But then a third option shows up: A four star restaurant that's even further away than the five star one. All of a sudden the five star gourmet temple looks quite attractive – it's better and closer than the third option. Now replace restaurant/ gourmet temple with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards:

What the decoy effect basically shows is that when people cannot decide between two front-runners, they use the third candidate as a sort of measuring stick. If one front-runner looks much better than the third candidate, people gravitate toward that front-runner. Third candidates, in other words, can make a complicated decision feel simple.

Let's say you are a centrist Democratic voter who cannot decide between Clinton and Obama because you want a candidate who is strong on national security but also someone fresh. You like Clinton on one measure and Obama on the other. Enter Edwards, whom you see as more dovish than Obama but part of the same establishment as Clinton. Obama looks better than Edwards on both counts, whereas Clinton beats Edwards on only the national security issue.

What do we learn from that? By drawing attention to the qualities of the third candidate that make your front-runner look better you can turn him into your wingman. Also: Life can be so simple. Or made simple for you for that matter. Back to the caves!

via Seth's blog