The Decoy Effect, a psychological trick that can influence what you buy and who you vote for

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It works!
At the fast food drive through when they ask just would I like medium or large it makes me less likely to return.

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You realize we’re all more likely to read this if you can suggest a more expensive book on the topic as well…



I believe my local sports ball team pulled this tactic. The owners wanted the city to pay for renovations to their stadium and of course the local citizens were pissed and didn’t want to do it. When it came time to vote they split it into two taxes: one to pay for the renovation and a second to pay for a rolling roof. The reno passed and the roof failed bad, the voters succumbed to the threats of the team leaving and rebuilt the stadium for the owners, but the voters still got to feel good because they got to reject the roof.


See: Ross Perot


Great book. And there is a good audio book version, too. Although the book is based on empirical science, it’s a popular science book that has a great narrative backed up by vivid anecdotes that make it an enjoyable read.

This trick isn’t just used in movie theaters and other for profit businesses, it is used dynamically by fund raising non-profits, such as where they give you the 3 donation options $5, $25,$100, or whatnot. The top price is, of course, designed to make the others look cheap. But that range of pricing will be adjusted based on what they think your worth is. The capable orgs do A/B testing correlated with demographics to target you for maxium extraction of your money.


City planning can be the same. Make plans to build lots of buildings in a park, when people protest, scale back to what you had originally intended and instead of being pissed for losing part of their park people are happy they saved most of it.


screening for colorectal cancer… if he also presented them with a third option – an appointment at a less convenient hospital with a longer waiting time, ie, the decoy – the uptake was greater.

In case dying of colorectal cancer isn’t an inconvenient enough third option.


Verbatim dialog each time I go the movies:

“I’d like a small Coke Zero.”

“Do you know you can upgrade to a medium for just 50 cents more?”

“Yes, I do know that.” [dead stare]

“Okay! Small Coke Zero.”


Where “small” is a 32 ounce cup. The low price of the un-needed “upgrade” suggests just how little the soda costs relative to their pricing.


You can go back to work now, or, you can read every word in this sentence.

It works!


We are paying for the cup. The soda cost is pretty much incidental.

(Bear in mind, too, that the small soda I just purchased will be split between two people. Any more and I’d need a pee break sometime around the third act.)


These days I have a visceral and stubborn reaction to upselling. No I do not want your large for .50 more I shouldn’t even have the medium thank you very much.


These days I’m pretty much immune to “the deal”. I know what I want, can elucidate the reasoning and don’t need anything more. “Don’t need it, don’t want it; I want this” seriously frustrates sales people all the time. Makes me happy, though!


I kind of feel sorry for post office workers who are clearly ordered to up sell me every time I just want to send a first class letter. The PO even took out all the stamp machines, saying they were out of date. I suspect they took them out based on the idea that having to buy stamps at the counter was an upsel opportunity for the PO, and eff customer service and convenience.




Hello, lizard brains. All your choices are wrong. Don’t buy any popcorn at all. Your insulin receptors will be ever so grateful.

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Even the cup costs pennies. You’re paying for the movie theater. As I understand it, the ticket price mostly goes to the studio and the distributor; concessions pay for the facilities and operating costs (and profit for the theater owners).

I always ask for tap water. Some places are great and give me a soda cup with ice and everything. Others are resentful and give me one of those tiny paper cones that holds about two sips of water, gets soggy in 30 seconds, and can’t be set down on a table.

These days I mostly go to the fancy theater where I can have a beer. “And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup, I’m talking about a glass of beer.” For about the same price as a soda at the multiplex…


I’m not sure anchoring and the decoy effect are the same.