Taking a multiple choice test, we get uneasy if “b” appears to be the answer to questions 1 through 5. For #6, our inclination is to select choice “a” or “c” or “d” if at all possible.
Similarly, baseball umpires are influenced by the number of strikes they call for a single batter. More strikes mean it is less likely that they will call another pitch a strike.
Sequences affect our decisions.
What we see before influences our perception of what comes next…but only for male speed daters.
During 16 sessions over two years, behavioral economists looked at 474 speed dating participants who made 7684 decisions. The women remained seated while the men progressed from one partner to the next. They interacted for 4 minutes, noted their appraisals for one minute, and then moved onward.
The data indicated that the attractiveness of the previous partner skewed a man’s perception of whomever came next. His affirmative dating decision was less likely if he considered the current partner less physically attractive than the person who preceded her.
Researchers were not sure why the same phenomenon was not true for the women.
Our Bottom Line: Decision-Making
An event sequence can create a reference point. When the price of gasoline moves from $3.25 to $3.00, we are pleased. But when $3.00 follows $2.75, we are not so happy.
Similarly, the same letter answer or a batter’s strikes can influence a subsequent decision. For speed dating, men tend to use the previous partner as a reference point. In yet another study, researchers concluded that investors judged a firm’s earnings surprise more harshly because of the report that preceded it from another company.
Consequently, when observing our decision making as buyers and sellers (and voters), behavioral economists suggest we look at the incentives that sequences create.
My sources and more: Having just listened to a Freakonomics podcast on sequences, I checked the research links they provided. The academic literature is dry but the conclusions are fascinating. If you want to take a look, this is the paper on the gambler’s fallacy, this is on investing and a third study looked at dating.