16 ½ reasons why you should read The Illusion of Choice by Richard Shotton: Part 1

28 March 2023
Authors Jack Miles

The Illusion of Choice: 16 1/2 psychological biases that influence what we buy.

6 min read
6 min read
Choice 1

Behavioural scientist Richard Shotton’s 2018 book ‘The Choice Factory’ detailed 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy and how to apply them to marketing. This week Richard releases his second book –  The Illusion of Choice: 16 ½ psychological influences that influence what we buy.

Having read it, I’m under no illusions. Every researcher should buy this book. Here’s 8 reasons why. 8 ½ more will follow tomorrow.

1.      It’ll make you a better researcher

Every business is in the behaviour business. This is truer for researchers than most. Why? Think what research is about.

Research answers questions like: Why are people behaving in a certain way? Why do people buy a brand? Why do people like an advert? These are questions about human behaviour. That means knowing what influences human behaviour matters. As Richard says, “researchers are always looking for what motivates human behaviour.”

2.      It makes the case for good evidence

Richard knows how important evidence is. Especially when suggesting that minor changes to marketing can have big impacts. He openly says that “some marketing theory has sketchy foundations. It’s often based on intuition and gut feeling. That’s not the basis for multi-million pound decisions.”  

What follows is then a masterclass in how to communicate research-based evidence.

Richard shows how all 16 ½ biases in The Illusion of Choice influence human behaviour by combining academic and commercial experiments.

Importantly he does so in a transparent way like highlighting flaws in sample sizes and sample composition in historical experiments. And by using statistical significance to determine how influential the biases he covers are.

Resultantly, The Illusion of Choice shows you how to create and communicate convincing and compelling evidence. Yes, as a researcher you’re in the behaviour business. But you’re also part of the evidence economy.  

3.      It has new behavioural science news in it  

Behavioural science’s popularity is ever increasing. This has meant more behavioural science books, courses and conferences.

Does this mean we’re maxed out on behavioural science? Not judging by The Illusion of Choice’s content. It covers lesser known biases. For example, it has a chapter on extremeness aversion. This is a bias that only has 7% the amount of online searches in the last month as social proof (a well-known bias).

But The Illusion of Choice also offers new news in other ways. This includes recent experiments and modern examples of how brands apply biases. Richard says commercial experiments and examples of behavioural science’s marketing application are key to…

“…Getting people to buy into behavioural science. Especially by showing where behavioural science can have immediate, measurable uplifts on marketing performance.”

4.      But it also shows you how learnings from the past are born to last

The Illusion of Choice gives you a lesson in applied history. This involves detailing historical applications of behavioural science and then showing that the same principal still works today when applied to marketing problems.

Let’s take old adverts for example. Richard shows how advertising lines that are between 30 and 70 years old were more memorable when they were first used because they used rhyming. But also, that rhyming makes copy more memorable today (based on a recent experiment).

5.      The book uses behavioural science to help us read it…

There’s no evidence more compelling than seeing an idea work in practice. And The Illusion of Choice does just this.

The subtitle uses the thinking that we notice precise numbers more than round numbers (16 ½ psychological biases that influence what we buy). The chapter structure uses base value neglect by having a bonus chapter. And the front cover’s design uses the watching eyes effect.

6.      …This includes ridiculously strong social proof…

The most powerful bias The Illusion of Choice uses ‘live’ is social proof – the idea we’ll copy other’s actions/try to emulate others.

Praise for The Illusion of Choice comes from all angles. From behavioural scientists and psychologists like Rory Sutherland, Nir Eyal and Jonah Berger. To marketing powerhouses like Les Binet and Dave Trott. And from business owners like Brewdog CEO James Watt. And who wouldn’t want to emulate what such established people do?

7.      …And puts the E in E.A.S.T

The E in the behavioural science framework E.A.S.T says that to trigger a behaviour you must make it easy to do. Richard wants The Illusion of Choice’s buyers to read it and to apply its findings. And he puts mechanisms in place to achieve this.

The book is made-up of short, digestible chapters. Each chapter focuses on one bias. This means you can read one chapter in about 10mins. You can then pick the book up again in two days and easily continue where you left off. That nudges you into reading the book.

But what about getting you to apply the book’s findings?

8.      It has a winning formula: from academia to application

Each chapter has three parts: 1) a biases’ origin. 2) an experiment or evidence that shows the bias is applicable to marketing. 3) details about how you can apply it. Richard makes this final part the easiest of all. Each chapter has a section about applying a bias in a marketing context with several suggested use cases.

This structure makes it easy to apply the findings from the sometimes complex world of behavioural science to your day job. By doing so you can make your insight communication more effective, increase your pricing and more. How? Find out in part two. But in the meanwhile, you can….

  • Buy The Illusion of Choice from Amazon

  • Learn more about Richard’s behavioural science consultancy Astroten

  • Follow Richard on Twitter @rshotton

Jack Miles
Senior Research Director at Northstar Research Partners, Research World Editor in Chief, Online at ESOMAR


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