Researchers have long known that people make decisions for irrational reasons. For example, when given a choice, most people will avoid the possibility of losing something rather than seek the possibility of gaining something.

This "loss aversion" effect is the reason most people are afraid to start their own business. Entrepreneurs, by contrast, courageously focus on the potential upside rather than the possibility of loss or rejection.

Similarly, many people make buying decisions based upon a positive attribute of a product rather than negative one, even when those attributes are the same. This is called "attribute framing."

For example, consumers are far more likely to buy soap marketed as "99% Pure" than the same soap marketed as "Only 1% Impure." Note that the two statements are factually identical.

It turns out that attribute framing may be part of our genetic heritage. A recent study of chimpanzees and bonobos in the Republic of Congo revealed that attribute framing influences their decision-making.

The study is significant for two reasons. First, the DNA of chimpanzees and bonobos are 99% similar (or 1% dissimilar, if you prefer) to human DNA. Second, great apes don't have cultures, so studying them automatically filters out the possible effect of advertising, etc. on the decision-making process.

As Christopher Krupenye, a doctoral candidate in evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, pointed out in a recent article in The Atlantic:

Because bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans all exhibit framing effects, it is unlikely that this trait evolved independently in each lineage. Instead, it appears that choice biases are evolutionarily ancient.

What's important to understand about attribute framing is that it's entirely irrational and easily bleeds into stupid decision making.

Taking the soap example, consumers might favor soap sold as "95% Pure" over soap sold as "Only 1% Impure" even though the latter is the superior product. That's why advertisers and marketers can (and do) use attribute framing to create preference for inferior products.

So here's the kicker. The study unexpectedly revealed that male great apes were more susceptible to attribute framing than females. In other words, men are more likely than women to make an irrational (i.e. dumb) buying decision based upon attribute framing.

Since every business wants the most value possible from corporate expenditures, the fact that females are less susceptible to attribute framing strongly suggests that, on average, women are smarter decision-makers when comes to buying products and services.

This falls in line with other scientific observations that women in business, on average, perform better under stress, make teams more productive, and are better CEOs and hedge fund managers than their male counterparts.

Please note that all of these studies compare average performance rather than individual performance. They tell us nothing about whether it's wiser to hire female "A" over male "B".

They do tell us, however, that men who favor men over women in hiring decisions may be an example of irrational decision-making.

Published on: Mar 6, 2015
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