40 years of research


In his book – ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ – Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, provided an overview of 40 years of research pointing to two distinctly different types of thinking common in most human beings.

Slow thinking is deliberate and considered while fast thinking is instinctive and emotional. More over fast thinking is – intuitive thinking.

Kahneman like so many before him highlighted the frequency with which decisions and therefor purchase behaviour is based largely on instinct or intuition. Intuition is in fact one of the most powerful influencers on consumer behaviour – particularly where the decision is made quickly.

In one experiment when asked how many people are murdered in Michigan each year, the average response was 100. When the same sample was asked how many people are murdered in Detroit each year, the average response was 200. This is despite the fact that Detroit is the capital of and therefore a subset of Michigan.

In another experiment Americans were asked how long it might take to cycle from Maine to Florida respondents quoted a period that was significantly less than an identical sample quoted for the duration of a trip cycling from Florida to Maine. Apparently we unconsciously associate travelling north with travelling against the forces of gravity.

In a third experiment respondents were asked to rate the intellect and athletic ability of people with the following names;

  • David Clark
  • David F Clark
  • David FP Clark
  • David FPR Clark

The findings were conclusive in demonstrating the perception that Intellect increased with the number of initials and athletic ability decreased with the number of letters

In all three of these examples decisions were made intuitively – demonstrating three things:

  • The power of intuition.
  • The unreliability of intuition.
  • That intuition can be manipulated.

Intuition while unreliable and the source of error, is a major determinate of human and therefore consumer behaviour.

Factors that influence intuitive decisions including – suggestion, preconceptions, impressions and conflicting cues – all of which contribute to making intuition a HIGHLY UNRELIABLE decision making mechanism. This does not however take anything away from the power and incidence of intuitive thinking and the extent to which it is a factor that needs to be addressed by marketers.

In his book Kahneman notes – ‘We are inherently pattern-seeking creatures, we jump to conclusions when we look for causes, and let the plausibility of stories we construct overly influence our judgment.’

We seek easy solutions that provide for intuitive decision making. Managing human behaviour requires recognition of this. Further, I would argue that it is of little value to:

  • Present a list of facts to someone when the decision will be intuitive.
  • Expect a cognitive assessment when the decision is going to be intuitive.
  • Convert a thinking system from fast to slow, once it is established.

Facts can and do influence slow thinking but rarely impact on fast thinking.


  1. Many decisions are made intuitively.
  2. The presentation of facts is unlikely to impact on intuitive decisions.
  3. Managing behaviour requires an understanding of what is and is not intuitive and how to influence both slow and fast thinking.
No tags