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Understanding how vividness bias appears in the workplace

Last updated

23 November 2023

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Vividness bias is where we place more weight on more vivid or impressive attributes than equally important but less impressive attributes. 

Understandably, this bias can lead to less-than-optimal decisions if you disregard other things that matter. It’s key in many workplace aspects, such as job negotiations, purchase decisions, and marketing or advertising choices.

Does that mean vividness bias is bad? Not necessarily. It all depends on balance. Let’s learn more about finding the middle ground and where vividness bias appears in the workplace.

What is vividness bias?

Vividness bias occurs when you focus more on language, images, or memories that evoke emotions or strong responses. As a result, you may put undue importance on certain things, affecting communication and decision-making. 

For example, Company XYZ is aware of vividness bias and how it impacts prospective employees. While recruiting, the company shows fancy offices or on-site gyms instead of focusing on the salary or benefit packages.

An interviewee with vividness bias may see the fancy office or gym as a sign of prestige, skewing their employment decision.

What causes vividness bias?

The unsurprisingly named vividness effect causes the vividness bias. "Vivid" information is more memorable, attention-grabbing, louder, or shinier.

Consider a clever advertising campaign that features a new cellphone model with updated tech. Consumers may focus on the better camera or color without considering price, performance, and compatibility. 

Another modern source of this bias is social media. It bombards us with images and words to engage and excite us, distorting our focus and clouding our priorities.

This bias causes long lines of people waiting to purchase the latest iPhone, even if it’s not that different from the last. 

Impact of vividness bias

Vividness bias can have a long-lasting effect on how we perceive reality and make decisions. 

It can influence our purchases, employment negotiations, and even our chosen activities. While it can easily sway us, we may regret our choices. Was the job at the fancy office the smartest choice over the job with the higher salary and better benefits? Probably not.

Let’s have a look at more ways this bias impacts us. 

Decision making

Decision-making is a critical area that vividness bias can impact.  

Let’s imagine you’re buying a home. Typical boxes to check include commute time, local schools, and the neighborhood. If you find a house in a prestigious neighborhood, you may focus solely on that element and get stuck with a long commute and poorer school. 

It’s crucial to consider all facets when making a decision, especially one as important as buying a home.

Advertising

Advertising executives count on vividness bias to influence consumer's purchasing choices. It’s why you’ll always see happy families around the table, supermodels purchasing soft drinks, and celebrities driving luxury vehicles. 

It doesn’t stop there—it’s even impacting healthcare. Drug companies prompt consumers to ask their doctors for medications that are new to the market. 

Performance appraisals

Look in most employee files, and you’ll see more notes about late arrivals than early starts. 

If a mediocre performer stepped up once in the last year to surpass their quota, their manager may note this in their file. 

During the year, they didn’t do anything that set them apart from others, so managers use basic performance indicators to appraise them.

Managers and supervisors are often guilty of vividness bias when recognizing performance.

Risk assessment

Many of us think history predicts the future. Vividness bias acts similarly: Vivid memories result in decisions based on those memories. 

Imagine you were in a fender bender on the way to the grocery store. In future, you may visit another store or take another route. The accident is a vivid memory, overtaking the many trips to the store that didn’t result in an accident. 

How does vividness bias affect the workplace?

Vividness bias can affect just about any aspect of the workplace. One of the most significant areas is new hires and promotions. 

Know your goals upfront if you’re interviewing for a new job or up for a promotion. Some vividness bias may be key to your decision. 

Maybe you’ve been working in a communal workspace for a while, and an office is important to you. It’s good to take that into consideration. The key is not to let vividness bias be the sole reason you accept the job or promotion. 

As an employer, remember you can’t count on vividness bias while recruiting applicants or promoting talent. Not everyone is into fancy things. So offering that big office or huge salary may not result in the personnel you want. 

If those perks did entice the candidate, would they be a good fit for your company? Consider emphasizing your company’s essential, less flashy attributes for the best choices.

How to avoid vividness bias

If you’re negotiating a position, go into it with a plan. This can keep you focused to avoid vividness bias and make the best decision for you.

Try these three tips:

Know your priorities

Consider what matters to you before entering into negotiations or making a critical decision. Writing down priorities, notes, and questions is a good idea. Staying focused will help you avoid the pitfalls of vividness bias.

Don't compare yourself to others

We all have different values. Comparing yourself to others and aiming for their lifestyles can mean sacrificing your values. 

While you may consider someone the epitome of success, that success may not align with your goals and morals. 

It’s important to note your priorities and what brings you happiness and self-value.

Reflect on the decision you’re making

When all’s said and done, what factors prompted your decision? Are they on your list of priorities? Carefully consider all attributes making up your decision.

Examples of workplace vividness bias

While we can find vividness bias in any part of our lives, it’s very prevalent in the workplace. Let’s look at a couple of examples. 

Interviewing

Bob’s interviewing for a position with XYZ company. The position offers the same salary as his current position but comes with his own office. There’s a two-week offsite training in New York. 

Bob has never been to New York before, and he’s always wanted his own office rather than a cubicle. He also loves that the company has a staff cafeteria.

Unfortunately, Bob's vividness bias means he’s overlooked a few things. The workplace is an additional half hour away, and he will not accrue paid time off for six months. His friend, who works at XYZ, complains about his workload and lack of departmental structure.

Recruiting

Carol’s recruiting for an executive and offering the new Vice President a top salary, a company car, and a corner office. She’s intentionally offered all the perks that come with a prestigious position.

Carol's vividness bias means she’s created a job opening based on what she thinks the best candidate is looking for. 

While looking for the best talent to fill the position, Carol shouldn’t lose sight of the candidate's fit for the company's culture. A rewarding position for the employee and employer creates longevity and a more invested workforce.

Vividness bias can mean we make undesirable decisions based on impressive stuff. Try our tips to counter this bias in your life and workplace. After all, you don’t want to choose the wrong job or candidate based on novel, exciting things when there’s a better fit available.

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