Bias number 20 is known as the bizarreness effect. This is a cognitive bias that asserts that the content of presented material is more memorable if it is regarded as bizarre or unusual by the observer.
This bias is hotly contested amongst psychologists, some of whom believe it has no bearing on memory and some who believe it detracts from memorability.
It’s funny how even psychologists, supposed experts at bias, find themselves in conflictual situations about the validity of a bias. Very little research has been conducted to prove the presence of the bias, so where's the evidence for their informed opinions?
Don’t they recognise that their assessment of the bizarreness effect’s validity is almost certainly the result of their own biases? Oh, the irony!
Here’s my simple assessment of this bias’s validity: it depends. It depends on a number of factors that actually determine whether or not the bizarreness effect has any affect on our memory or not.
Let’s look at where we often see attempts to deploy the bizarreness effect — advertising.
I’m not a big consumer of advertising personally, having used nearly every possible means available to me to strip it from my life. However, when I do encounter it, I am often struck by the creators’ attempts to attract my attention through bizarre imagery. Whether I am seeing exploding heads, talking meerkats or absurd situations on screen, I am struck by the efforts to “push the envelope” further and further towards the ridiculous.
The net effect on me is that one bizarre image folds into another until the whole realm of advertising becomes a series of nonsensical images and catchphrases, very few of which influence my buying decisions. Call me a killjoy, but it doesn’t have the desired effect, namely that I hardly associate the image with the brand, and I certainly don’t base buying decisions from it.
Conversely, I find simple, no-nonsense ads that cut the crap and tell me exactly what the product does and why I might want to buy it far more compelling. Why? Because it feels as though the advertiser is more interested in being straight than selling me a supposed lifestyle that will inevitably accompany the purchase of their product or service.
Has BS-less selling, in its rarity, become the bizarre? How bizarre!
Much like you, I’ve already got a lifestyle that I love, thank you very much. I don’t need the association with a radically unhealthy fizzy drinks manufacturer to boost my ego. In fact, I’d argue such an association would detract from my personal brand in my social circles.
You could say that I’m not these brands’ target market, and that’s probably true. I’m not as gullible as I once was. I’ve done enough and seen enough in my life to make the average person’s toes curl. As a result, I’ve gained enough knowledge about how the world and people work to see through a lot of the marketing razzmatazz.
The upshot of this is that very little shocks or surprises me anymore. While this might occur as boring to some, to me it feels like a powerful place to be.
It enables me to trim away all the unnecessary manipulation and distraction that is constantly being thrown at me. It empowers me to choose the means by which I gather information to make decisions. It places the responsibility for my decisions firmly in my hands. It silences the noise, inside and outside.
In short, it simplifies my life considerably by enabling me to better deal with what’s so, not what I’d like to be so, or rather, what someone else would like me to believe is so.
You know, the thing I’m learning from writing this series of articles is just how out of touch with reality human beings are, largely due to the lack of education in how their minds work. It's this fact that makes us all gullible to a clever bit of persuasion.
The good news is that it opens up the opportunity for being able to create societies that humans have often longed for but found unobtainable. While many attribute societal failures to human nature, I attribute them to human ignorance. And, I am almost always reluctant to see “failures” as complete, because there’s always something to be gained from a failure, turning the experience into a valuable nugget of wisdom and success in the process.
So, are advertisers failing to win customers through the pursuit of the increasingly bizarre imagery and storytelling?
It depends. Perhaps they live by the idea that there’s a sucker born every minute, and perhaps they’re right — for now.
It’s easy to get swept up by the brain’s desire to process bizarreness, but ask yourself, “How does it help?” If it doesn’t, stop wasting your energy on useless pursuits and start using your brain power to solve important problems.
Focusing on what matters more that what intrigues you will put you firmly in the driving seat of your life. And when you disengage from unnecessary distractions, you find real purpose in life.
A purposeful life is a life worth lived. It’s a brilliant life.