OPINION21 April 2022

Rory Sutherland: On the bias

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Behavioural economics Opinion Trends

Rory Sutherland discusses the extraordinary discrepancy between how people evaluate their own lives “as experienced locally”, contrasted with what they think of life “in general”.

Local corner shop convenience store_crop

One of the strangest things to emerge in market research is how a tiny recontextualisation of a question can lead to a completely different answer. An extreme case of this is the extraordinary discrepancy between how people evaluate their own lives “as experienced locally”, contrasted with what they think of life “in general”. So, for example, if you ask people “how happy are you with life in modern Britain?” you will get far more negative answers than if you ask people “how happy are you with life in Sevenoaks?”

Another bizarre discrepancy arises between people’s individual experience of the NHS and their wider belief in how it is faring overall. Ask generalised questions about the NHS and you’ll get far more negative responses than if you focus on the respondent’s own recent experience, which tends to be fairly favourable.

Of course, one possible explanation is that the news, which in Britain tends to be reported on a national basis, has an extraordinary negativity bias. Some of ...