behavioral science principle #9

Salience bias


Salience bias occurs when you focus on the most eye-catching or emotionally satisfying items or information while ignoring the fine print.

A 2016 study on energy consumption, for example, found that while most individuals said they were willing to make sacrifices to protect the environment, the salience of a warm shower was more enticing in the moment than concern about water overconsumption. When researchers provided study participants with shower meters that gave real-time feedback on the amount of energy they were using, they reduced their consumption by 22% almost instantly.

This kind of bias can lead to workplace conflict and reactive decision-making because people focus on less important criteria while filtering out more important information.

HR application

One way to counter salience bias is to make people aware of it. If, for example, you find employees are skipping over the most important information when considering new benefits plans, resist the urge to overwhelm them with all the details. Instead, present the most salient information up front.

It’s also important to note that salience can be subjective. What connects with one person may not land the same way with another. Keep this and the other behavioral science principles in mind as you target programs and initiatives company-wide.

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