Pre-defined horizons

A couple of days ago I was using my husband’s iPad to show cartoons to our kids on YouTube. Now when he goes on YouTube he is bombarded with new episodes of “Fixies” and “Octonauts”. Yesterday I accidentally clicked on an ad for some sort of a desk decor and today this desk decor is “attacking” me from every ad space there is. Targeting in action. I got it. Seems to be based on my interests, right? But is it? Doesn’t it look like someone makes an assumption about my interests and defines a “frame” for me to fit in? Can I still choose “yellow”, if someone tries to direct (read: limit) my choice to “red or blue”?

To think about it, if I searched for something or clicked on it, I must be interested. Maybe if the same website pops up many (many) times it will force me to have a look and eventually press the “buy” button. Maybe. After all, I am probably a part of a desired target audience, carefully selected based on demographics and interests; and on top of that I searched for it myself, didn’t I? Well… There is a problem to it. Maybe it was not my search; maybe I already bought what I looked for elsewhere; or maybe that was more of a curiosity request, rather than a true interest. In other words, maybe the “frame” I am given doesn’t serve my interests after all. That’s only one aspect.

This, however, made me think about framing of choice in general. On one hand, we live in a world of limitless options and opportunities, but on the other:

are we truly choosing outside the predefined horizons?

Do we dare to add the variant C ourselves, while there are only A and B listed? Actually, is it only about daring, or is it just plain convenient if we don’t need to search and think ourselves and can just select from the options we are given? Open-ended questions are always more difficult than multiple-choice…

I see this in action with our kids. If you ask them even something as simple as: what do you want to wear? (an open-ended question) — they on many counts will not know the answer and will take very long to decide. However, if you give them two-three options to pick from, the decision will come much faster and easier. Then again, I am framing (read: limiting) their choice, n’est-ce pas? 

This is in fact a psychological trick very frequently used: predefining horizons in order to exclude (or at least limit the possibility of) the choice that you don’t want a person to make.   You are asked: “Do you want tea, coffee or water?” What is the chance that you will ask for milk or juice? Low. Most probably you will just pick from the three options given. But why? Is it because you don’t want to make it complicated on yourself (or on the other)? Or is it because you just assume that there is no other option available? This one is a tricky one to watch out for, because

assuming that all available options are listed might turn out to be wrong.

To conclude I would like to leave you with this: predefined horizons or frames of choice can seem to serve our interests and can seem convenient, yet the questions to ask yourself are:

are all available options actually listed? and

do I dare to think outside the box?



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