Why we don’t always do what’s in our best interest


Food was in short supply in the US during the Second World War. Ships once importing food were either transporting troops or lying at the bottom of the ocean. Meat was particularly scarce and subsequently rationed. This was a huge blow to US citizens for whom meat was a staple to the diet.

At this time, Public Health was a matter of national interest, so the Government formed Committee on Food Habits to understand eating habits of American families. The Committee wanted to put together a plan to alter diets and purchase decisions in order to benefit the war effort. 1

Freezing Effect

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin was the head of this Committee and ran a series of experiments to identify ways to change eating and purchase behaviour. After the War in 1947, Lewin published some of his findings on Group Decision and Social Change,2 which lead to his theory of Freezing Effect.

Lewin conducted an experiment with two split groups of US housewives. In the first group, the participants received a lecture on why a switch to cheaper cuts of meat (kidneys, hearts, intestines, etc.) would positively impact the war effort and how this alternative food was also nutritionally beneficial. The group were also given tips and guides to takeaway on how to prepare and cook the food.

The second group received a similar lecture, but the group were invited early on to participate in the discussion. The housewives shared their thoughts on the challenges of feeding their families in the current environment. Towards the end they were given the same tips and advice on using this different food. They were then asked a show of hands who would be trying the new food within the next week.

A follow up showed that only 3% of the first group served the cheaper cuts of meat, whilst 32% of the second group served the meat.

We don’t always do what’s in our interest

Economics tells us that individuals act in their own self-interest, but in reality this isn’t always the case. When you publicly commit to an opinion or decision, you’re more likely to stick with it, regardless of wether it’s in your interest to do so. We define ourselves by the groups we associate with and the decisions required to maintain or enhance social status within that group. That’s the essence of Freezing Effect.3

It’s also a misconception that we consider all the facts that state our position. It’s the opposite. Once we decide and declare our opinion on a subject, we raise the facts or considerations to support this position.

How many times have you watched a movie, and immediately after it finishes, you’re unsure on whether or not you liked it? 24 hours later, after you’ve turned the movie over in your head and replayed some of the scenes, you decide you loved it and want to watch it again. I’ve had that with a few films. Napoleon Dynamite and the recent Blade Runner film come to mind.

It doesn’t happen when you’ve watched the film as part of a group. When you go to the cinema with a group of friends, you ask each other what you thought of the film. You share your immediate opinion in public and once you’ve publicly declared whether you liked the film or not, it’s unlikely you’ll reverse that decision because you’ve committed.

Sports teams are another example. Once you’ve declared allegiance to a team, you don’t change team. It’s not in your interest to support a poorly performing team. There’s no enjoyment in backing the loser. It’s in your interest to drop the team once they sell their best players and get relegated from the division, but you don’t because you’ve declared public allegiance.

Applying Freezing Effect in Marketing

For marketers, it’s our job to create environments where users publicly declare an intention to buy our product or an allegiance to our brand.

If you attend trade shows and run a stand, bring a stack of amazon vouchers. Whatever value you think appropriate. Let’s say you’re a software company with a new type of sales software. Your product has slightly different features to standard. Salesforce is loaded with features, your product is simple to use and set-up. Fewer features, lower price. 

You show this product to customers and many like the product. But, few of those who express an interest follow through and purchase.

At your next event, an attendee drops by your stand and, after viewing the software, provides positive feedback. You pull out an Amazon voucher and tell them that you’re offering Amazon vouchers to anyone who will create a video on their mobile right now. All they need to do is repeat what they just said and upload it to any of their social channels with us tagged. £20 voucher for a video upload, £10 for a written review. But, they need to write it themselves, not simply copy and paste a ready prepared review.

There are two benefits to this. First, you get the public declaration. The attendee makes this declaration to their peers and publishes it to their network. In their mind, they’re now somebody who likes your product and will be much likely to become a customer. 

Secondly, you get a stream of testimonials that you can use across your social channels and website.

Get their details and track if they become members within the following week (after your follow up contact). You discover the conversion rates, the total cost of the campaign measured against the lifetime value of the customers earned, and calculate whether you run the campaign again.

  1. You can read about this in ‘The World War II Campaign to Bring Organ Meats to the Dinner Table’ published on The Atlantic
  2. Lewin, K. (1947). Group decision and social change, in Newcomb T., Hartley., E. (eds.) Readings in social psychology, New York: Holt.
  3. A more recent study on Freezing Effect: Festré, A. and Garrouste, P (2018). Do people stand by their commitments? Evidence from classroom experiments. Journal of Behavioural and Experimental Economics, Vol 76: 1-6.
Avatar By Liam Curley

Are you looking for ways to find more sales leads? This site is for you!

Liam CurleyHi I’m Liam. I created this site to help businesses in B2B make the initial breakthrough with prospective customers that are otherwise unaware of what you can do for them –  You can read more about my background here.

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