Character  &  Context

What’s in a Name? The Role of Expectations, and Reality, in Our Judgements

Peter Hovard
A scoop of pik ice cream, maybe strawberry flavored, sits atop a suagr cone and is topped with raninbow colored sprinkles. The ice cream and cone are against a candy blue background

When Juliet muses that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” she’s refusing to allow a name and its baggage to overrule her better judgment. What could be more romantic than refusing to be encumbered by something as silly as a family name?

But putting romance aside, does Juliet have a point? As it turns out, not so much. Our perceptions, judgements, decisions, and behavior are influenced by the way things are worded, or “framed.” Modern psychology teaches us that our experience doesn’t just come from our senses but also draws on our existing knowledge, beliefs, and expectations.

Hearing the word “rose” primes certain expectations that can influence our judgements and perceptions. For example, one study showed that participants rated the same odors as more pleasant if they were given positive (compared to neutral or negative) names (sorry, Juliet). And it’s not just about names. Many studies show how expectations can influence our perceptions: for example, the color of foods influences how intense we perceive the flavor to be.

But do we always accommodate prior information into our experience? What happens if our expectations and reality are clearly mismatched? That is, how does what we expect to happen, combined with what our senses actually tell us, influence our judgments and perceptions? The answer has many implications for our day-to-day lives, and for the interactions between organizations and customers.

First, let’s think of this from a perspective that we’re all familiar with—eating.

Imagine you’re sitting down to tuck into a tub of strawberry ice cream. It’s made by your favorite brand. It’s a hot day and the ice cream’s cold. It’s pink, suggesting that it’s going to have lots of fruity flavor. You know it’s going to taste good.

The first mouthful passes your lips and … something’s wrong! It tastes like … fish?! How do you think you’d respond?

Read more of the post at Behavioral Scientist.

By Peter Hovard

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