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Non-Rational Factors In Decision Making

Non-Rational Factors In Decision Making

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that decision making is not an entirely rational process and will be able to name some of the factors that influence it

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Non-Rational Factors in Decision Making

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Few decisions are made using a purely rational process, you know, weighing the pros and the cons, doing a cost-benefit analysis. Have you ever bought something that you just truly loved and then gone home and tried to justify it with logic? Well, if you've done that, you certainly are not alone. I'm Marlene, and today in this tutorial I'd like to look with you at some of the non-rational factors that go into our decision making.

So let's start by defining non-rational. Now, non-rational of course is the opposite of rational. And in decision making, it's the influence of emotional factors rather than tangible gains and losses associated with a choice. So we're going to look at those emotional factors, and we're also going to look at two other kinds of factors. In addition to emotional, there's relational and neurological, so we'll be talking about these three factors.

But let's start with that emotional factor. It's called emotional bias. Now, emotional bias is a tendency to believe that something which generates a pleasant feeling is good and that something which evokes an unpleasant feeling is bad. So, this is something that marketers know very well. Remember any commercial or advertisement that you've seen. Chances are it was trying to make you feel good about a product.

I think about car commercials. It's all about speed and beauty and status. And isn't that true of just about any product? The people making the commercials, the markers want us to feel good about a product. We can take that same truth into buying something else, even a large decision like buying a home.

Realtors in fact will tell people selling their homes, they might make a suggestion to bake a pie or cookies and have them cooling on the counter because smell is a very powerful sense, and most people if they smell cookies or pie, it evokes a sense of home and comfort, which is a good feeling. And if you associate that feeling of good and comfort with this house, well, you're probably going to have an emotional bias towards the house.

And it's true. These things work. And this is another reason why sellers will stage a home to try to set it up and make it feel more like home. Notice I'm saying feel like a home. Now, obviously there are rational decisions that go into choosing something like a home as well. But if we have enough of these good feelings, this emotional bias, we may tend towards the house or the home that made us feel that way over something else.

So it's true in a large decision like this as much as it is in perhaps that small decision I asked you about at the beginning of this tutorial. Did you ever buy anything and then come home and try to justify it because you knew you bought it just because you loved it. So that's emotional bias. Now let's look at relational factors.

Relational factors have to do with a couple of different things. Well, first of all it has to do with the people that we relate to, our family, our community, our friends. And status symbol can become very important for many people. Now, a status symbol is an item which suggests that its owner has a high social status. Once again, marketers know that they can influence us with status symbols.

Think about the advertising that you look at and that you see. So the cars that we buy, perhaps the fashion, is there a fashion label on it? What is the car that we're driving? What's the brand here? Is it going to impress others if we want to impress others? Is this important to us? How does it make us feel about ourselves? So that's a status symbol.

Now, the other item here I mentioned, the community, the family that we're all a part of, that's peer pressure. And if you have kids you know that starts very young. Kids in school will begin to feel peer pressure and want to do things that others in their peer group are doing. Who has not heard the phrase, well, everybody has one. I need one. All the cool kids have one.

So that's peer pressure. It starts young, but it certainly doesn't end when we become an adult. So relationship factors and emotional factors go into decision making. Let's look at this last one, neurological. What do I mean by neurological or biological? Well, this has something to do with salience as a term that I'd like to define for you.

Salience is a factor of an object, an idea, a choice which draws additional attention to that item. This is very interesting. On a neurological level, which means it's pretty unconscious, something about a particular object or item calls our attention to it, and we tend to reach for it. Think of the last time you were in a store and you went to buy a peanut butter, shampoo, anything that you might be looking on the shelves for, and there's a lot of it.

Chances are what's at eye level is the most well-known brand, one that you've heard of. So neurologically it comes to mind. You see it. It's right there. And you might use something called rule of thumb. Now, this is an expression meaning a general estimate knowing it will not be entirely accurate in all situations.

For example, well, good rule of thumb to buy this. You pay for what you get. I'm over here in the produce aisle. I see the fruit. Good rule of thumb is, well, if it's firm and it's got good color, then it's good fruit. Now, most of the time that's true, but maybe it's not always true. But we go by rule of thumb.

We see something. It stands out. We take it. Marketers do this actually very much in a conscious way because they know that what we see, they understand how this works. We're much more apt to get something that calls attention to itself than to perhaps search on the lower shelves or to pick up something we've never heard of. Perhaps we haven't seen it in a commercial.

So that would be salience. And that's also true if you're up in the front of the store getting ready to go out through the cash register. You see those items. They call them impulse items because they're right there. Impulse, they don't cost that much. We tend to grab them.

So that's a very neurological biological thing that happens to all of us and influences decision making. In closing, we certainly do think about things rationally, and that does go into decision making. But it's not the only thing that influences how we make decisions. Decision making is not a purely or always rational processes.

These items, emotion, relation, and even neurological factors, will influence how we make a decision. So I'm Marlene. I certainly have enjoyed being part of this tutorial. I look forward to seeing you next time.

Terms to Know
Emotional Bias

A tendency to believe that something which generates a pleasant feeling is “good,” and that something which evokes an unpleasant feeling is “bad.”


In decision making, the influence of emotional factors rather than tangible gains/losses associated with a choice.

Rule of Thumb

An expression, meaning a general estimate, knowing it will not be entirely accurate in all situations.


A factor of an object, idea, choice, etc. which draws additional attention to that item.

Status Symbol

An item which suggests that its owner has a high social status.