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Do you judge people for things they can’t control? There’s a good chance you do.

Do you judge people for things they can’t control? There’s a good chance you do.

Strategy

Nov,2018

Human behaviour is such a fascinating and diverse field of marketing. It’s one of the more intriguing rabbit holes a Strategic Planner will regularly fall into, invariably ending up with a new book or study about human psychology or behavioural economics by their bedside. Usually the pile grows faster than our ability to digest them, but at least we’re never short of a holiday read.

Examining the source material and methodology is critical to separating robust research and science from ‘a thing I read on Facebook’. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that fake news has dramatic repercussions, and there’s plenty of it about.

Of course we can’t read everything. So a good Planner starts to build a library of trusted sources. YouGov is one of mine. They have access to huge samples and use established and robust quantitative methodologies across all manner of topics. If it’s a YouGov study, chances are it’s worth a read.

The one that caught my eye recently was this – a YouGov study that looks at how far Britons believe people have control over characteristics like their weight, addiction and intelligence, and how the way we judge one another is affected by this. I figured it would support my unsubstantiated theory that humans are increasingly awful.

The first question in this research was about how much control you think people have over aspects of their life – how nice a person they are, their political views, how much they weigh, how intelligent or attractive they are. The results were unsurprising – most respondents agree people have a decent amount of control over things like niceness and political views, but less control over factors like intelligence, wealth, accent or attractiveness. It’s reasonable to assume that people believe these factors are less about choice and more about circumstances of birth, upbringing and good old genetics.

But it’s the second question where things start to get interesting – the same panel is asked how much they judge people for the same characteristics – do you judge someone based on their political views, how good their job is, or their accent? On the face of it, the results correlate – perceived control is clearly a key factor in how much we judge people. One of the reasons we judge people for being addicted to drugs or alcohol is because we perceive it as being something they can control. Look, I never said humans were kind or empathetic, but at least we’re honest.

Again, all makes sense. But in the case of three attributes, looks, accent or being unintelligent, it all gets a bit more interesting.

What this shows us is that the majority of people who judge a person for their accent, looks or for being unintelligent do so in spite of the fact they believe a person has little to no control over that aspect of themselves. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift, haters gonna hate.

This kind of insight is always fascinating to Planners, because it makes us question the nature of human behaviour. Put simply, people don’t always behave the way that’s logical or fair. It has implications for all types of brands and consumer segments, and could encourage marketers to think differently about how ‘disadvantage’ in these areas is portrayed and perceived.

It also left me with a hundred more questions. What if this sample was bigger so we could segment further by age, gender or religious/political affiliation? Are older people more judgemental, and Christians less so? Are women more judgemental than men? Are Telegraph readers more judgemental than Guardian readers? Has how we judge people on attractiveness or weight or wealth changed in the age of social media?

We could all guess, but the truth is we don’t know. So ask yourself this – what’s clouding your judgement about human behaviour? Assumptions, a thing you read on Facebook, that book by your bed, or maybe even the way YOU would answer the questions in the YouGov survey? Examining your own values and behaviours is an interesting exercise, but it’s no substitute for hard data and robust analysis.

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