Context Matters in Decision Making

No surprise here.

The students were divided into two groups. One group was given cues that were intended to be reminiscent of World War II–the President was from New York ("the same state as FDR"), the briefing was held in Winston Churchill Hall, and the refugees were fleeing via railroad. In the other group, the President was from Texas ("the same state as Lyndon Johnson"), the briefing was held in Dean Rusk Hall, and the refugees were escaping by boat.

There was no substantive difference between the scenarios given to the two groups (unless you believe that the mode of refugee transportation is somehow substantive)…yet those who heard the WWII-reminiscent version were more likely to conclude that aggression must be met with force, while those who heard the Vietnam-reminiscent version were more likely to recommend a hands-off policy. Again, there was nothing in the scenarios to make anyone conclude as a matter of logic that the first version was more similar to WWII and the second version was more similar to Vietnam.

Context matters in decision making. I'm sure these biases affect businesses just like they do politics.

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