These are interesting insights about people’s access to their preferences. I am skeptical of how well these ideas generalize to domains in which people are “expert” or in which the properties that map onto value/worth/preferences are transparently analyzable (e.g., tech equipment?). But a major point stands re: the skepticism with which we should view “mere” customer surveys when looking for or evaluating design opportunities. The wisdom of the recent insights of innovators re: the power of observation and ethnographic research comes into sharp relief in light of these findings about the psychology of preferences.
People are notoriously bad at explaining their own preferences. In one study researchers asked several women to choose their favorite pair of nylon stockings from a group of twelve. After they made their selections the scientists asked them to explain their choices. The women mentioned things like texture, feel, and color. All of the stockings, however, were identical. The women manufactured reasons for their choices, believing that they had conscious access to their preferences.
In other words: “That voice in your head spewing out eloquent reasons to do this or do that doesn’t actually know what’s going on, and it’s not particularly adept at getting you nearer to reality. Instead, it only cares about finding reasons that sound good, even if the reasons are actually irrelevant or false. (Put another way, we’re not being rational – we’re rationalizing.)”
Our ignorance of our wants and desires is well-established in…
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