The Blissful Ignorance Effect

I’ve always been a fan of studying how we, as people, make decisions whether they’re big ones (e.g., Smart Choices, Decision Traps) or day-to-day consumer ones (e.g., Why We Buy). On the latter, I’d always felt that the Internet was a marketer’s boon because Why We Buy shows the pains that merchandisers must endure in the physical world (using cameras and observers) that get replaced by a nice friendly clickstream in the virtual one. For example, market basket analysis can tell you what customers purchased in a supermarket and in which combinations; but only human observation can tell you each product they considered, which they looked at, which they picked up, why they tried to bend over to reach but stopped, and which they read the label on and then hastily put back.

All this is a long way of introducing an interesting article in today’s New York Times, entitled Some Blissful Ignorance Can Cure Chronic Buyer’s Remorse. The conclusion, named “The Blissful Ignorance Effect,” is that people who have more ambiguous information about a product expect to be happier with their purchases than those who have bought with more specific details.


… there is a shift in buyers’ goals before and after purchasing something. Professor Nayakankuppam says these are called “accuracy goals” versus “directional goals.”

Before the purchase, “people want clear, objective information — they want to make sure they get it right,” he said. “After a purchase, they want to reach a particular decision — they have a directional goal.”


Elliot Aronson, … co-author most recently of “Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me)” [dk: great title!] … is not surprised by these findings. He has spent a lifetime looking at how people justify their decisions. “If you have just a little information and then you’re a little disappointed, you can convince yourself that it wasn’t your fault, or that the item may be better than you thought for other reasons,” he said.

In general, he says, people are “cognitive misers” — they do not want to do a lot of thinking and research. That is one reason that brands and slogans are attractive; they are a shortcut to information.


Max Kalehoff, vice president for marketing for Clickable, […] says “A product that really requires a lot of detail or work to understand creates implicit barriers,” he said. “Marketers are throwing things at us with increasing complexity. It would be stupid to assume they should hide information from consumers, but they need to focus — from a product or service standpoint — on prioritizing the most important information and presenting it with the greatest efficiency.”

The article ends with some advice:

Research big decisions thoroughly, but don’t worry so much about the small ones. Don’t overanalyze why you like things — and in the end, you can probably convince yourself that whatever you have done is the right thing.

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