7/07/2008

When Things Become Uncertain, The Certain Becomes More Valuable

Think about the title of this article. I wrote it in a note to a loved one, and I'm trying to decide if it's profound or trite. Something tells me it's the former. I know that the something is the cognitive bias toward emotionally weighing DOWNSIDE risk much greater than UPSIDE risk. We perceive the potential pain much more acutely than the potential gain. Why?

The video What's Going On In There gives the answer I believe. Downside risk poses a threat to our identity. WE made a bad decision. Aligning that fact with our entire set of existing opinions would be a painful process. Do we really want to do that?

As economic news starts to create a perception of increased downside risk, what will the natural human reaction be? Seek sanctuary in certainty; mitigate those risks! Only this can put our minds at ease. And mental tranquility is the most precious commodity on the planet.

And you know this to be true.

The general mindset, as characterized by the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses", is one of being afraid of being perceived as not as good as someone else, regardless of how good one has it. All downside focus, no appreciation. There is a virtual mountain of literature on how the cosmetic and fashion industries have used such tools against women, but the total spending by those industries pales in comparison to the outlays directed to "male performance anxiety". Entire networks and indeed entire professional sports (e.g., Fox and the NFL), would cease to function without the massive cash infusions from makers of pills that only work in unplumbed bathtubs! (Note: I'd like to shake the hand of the advertising man that made up "priapism"; talk about your billion dollar ideas! "one potential side effect is that you could win the woody lottery" That should have spawned a congressional inquiry. No, wait. I'm sure it did. Just not an official one.)

And that's the perfect proof of my theorem! Sure, there were aging boomers who couldn't fly the flag at full mast anymore, but the volumes of pill and cream sales cover them and everyone who's had a real problem for the last 165,00 years. And that's only THIS YEAR'S sales! All of last year's sales and all of next year's sales will be to guys who are physically able, BUT HAVE BECOME SPOOKED BY THE ADS. So why risk a tepid response when you have a shot at being the poster boy for priapism? When things become uncertain (or just perceived as uncertain), the certain (or even the perceived certain) becomes more valuable.

Well, this post certainly didn't go where I planned, but I think I've made my point. I'd like to say just one more thing. It's a sad day when I think to myself "I wish they'd bring back hard liquor and cigarette ads to television so I can watch football with my kids again".



posted by Mike at 8:33 PM


5 Comments:

Blogger Bob said...

Well, I have to admit; I was really wondering where you were going with this one. Luckily I didn't have a mouthful of something when I read the last sentence, though - would have sprayed it all over my computer for sure...

Finally, all that negativity the news media has been spouting is coming to fruition in a self-fulfilling manner.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Thanks, Bob. Sometimes the muse is truly inscrutible.

Mike

6:14 AM  
Blogger sjs said...

Excellent points, however my assertion is that age is a huge factor in overweighting downside risk. Youth aren't saddled by these fears the way us oldsters are.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

I can't concentrate after seeing that profile picture, SJS! You're right that the effect does grow with age/responsibility, but most everybody has a bit of it even early on. How many people even at an early age "settle" for a relationship or a job? But a point well taken.

Mike

9:32 AM  
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11:37 PM  

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