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All the Biases: Too Much Information part 2, the Weird Stuff July 4, 2022

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
Tags: ,

Continuing on with my analysis of the biases listed in this graphic.  The next section has the awkwardly long name of “Bizarre, funny, visually-striking or anthropomorphic things stick out more than non-bizarre/unfunny things.”  Well, I can improve on that.  I’d rather call it “We don’t notice the boring stuff.”

Here’s their list under this sub-heading:

  • Bizarreness Effect
  • Humor Effect
  • Von Restorff Effect
  • Picture Superiority Effect
  • Self-relevance Effect
  • Negativity Bias

Let’s take a look!

  • Bizarreness Effect

Pretty obvious.  Supposedly we remember weird stuff better than ordinary stuff.  Apparently this one is somewhat disputed; there is apparently conflicting evidence about whether this is real.  I guess if something is so bizarre as to incomprehensible, we might not really take it in well enough to remember it.

  • Humor Effect

We remember funny stuff better than ordinary stuff.   Again, pretty obvious.  Example:  There are college classes I took where I don’t remember any specific things we learned.  I sure can’t do quantum mechanics calculations anymore.  But the one course where the professor kept us in helpless laughter the whole class, with stories of his childhood and his rotten little brother, I remember much more of that class material.  (There was a waitlist to get into that class, it was so popular!)

Another example of this, back when my spouse was an estate planning attorney, he first needed to educate his clients about some basics on estates and trusts.  Rather than boring them with a lot of rules and regulations, he told stories to get his points across, and making them funny helped.  So later, when a client asked why they needed to include something in their plan, he could just remind them about “your wife’s next husband, Biff the personal trainer” or “Bill Gates in the IRS Grocery store”.  This also relates to how people remember stories better than lists of things, which I hope will also show up somewhere in this list of biases.

  • Von Restorff Effect

When looking at a group of mostly similar things, the one that is most different will be more easily remembered.  This especially goes for visual groups, and marketers use this on us all the time.  They will make sure that the choice they want us to make is highlighted in some way.  But it also applies to written lists.  For example, look at this list: “desk, chair, bed, table, chipmunk, dresser, stool, couch”.  If you try to recall the items later, the one that you will most easily recall would probably be “chipmunk” because it was the one that was different.

But if each thing on the list has something eye-catchingly unique about it, then the effect no longer works. When everything is special, then nothing is special.  For instance, in this this picture, an argument can be made for any of the four images, as to why it’s the one that’s unique.  As a result, none of them may stand out as more memorable than the others.

  • Picture Superiority Effect

We remember images better than we remember text.  Which is one reason why I almost always include some kind of image in each of my blog posts.

  • Self-relevance Effect

As I look this up, I find a lot more entries under the name “self-reference effect” which as far as I can tell is the same thing.  We remember things better when they involve us personally.

Thinking about advertising, and given all of these effects above, it would make sense that the best, most attention grabbing ad campaign of all time would encompass all of them.  It would be strange, funny, significantly different from any other ad of the time, personally relevant to the viewer, and include memorable images.  And my candidate for the most memorable ad campaign of all time checks all of those boxes.

The man your man could smell like

(If you aren’t of the right age to remember this commercial, you can see the original here.)

  • Negativity Bias

When making an evaluation, we pay more attention to negative traits than we do to positive ones.  Example:  Say we are thinking about a generally honest person and a generally dishonest person.  If the honest person does something dishonest, we will change our opinion of them and consider them now to be dishonest.  But if a dishonest person does something honest, that doesn’t make us now consider them to be an honest person, it was just a dishonest person doing one thing out of character.

I think that this one might belong under another section, since it’s not really about noticing a non-boring thing.  For now I’m going to move it to the “we notice flaws in others” section, and when I examine that section I’ll see if I decide to leave it there.

This subsection was all pretty obvious, although I didn’t know the name “Von Restorff Effect” before.  (Honestly, that one hardly seems to need a name, it’s just more like “Noticeable things are noticeable”.  Duh.)  As always, does anyone have any good examples of these effects?

←Back to the Beginning of this series.


1. Brent - July 5, 2022

That Old Spice commercial is hilarious; I remember the series, but not that particular one.

On the “Von Restorff Effect”: This is not really an example of that effect, but it reminded me of this funny Gary Larson story from “The Prehistory of the Far Side” — a case where someone made something notable when it wasn’t supposed to be:


(You can just read the first few paragraphs of that and skip the rest; this was the only link I could find that told the story.)

Liked by 2 people

2. Ubi Dubium - July 5, 2022

I remember that story about the Far Side, I have that book! The publisher took a cartoon about not standing out and completely reversed the meaning by adding color.



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