The science of first impressions

By Hilary Vizel | December 7, 2017A man and a woman sit in chairs negotiating a price.

While they’ve evolved to help us, sometimes our brain’s mental shortcuts can misguide us. A good example of this is Anchoring: We often latch onto the first piece of information we receive and it can influence our judgement of anything that follows. Have you ever noticed how buying a pricey item feels a little more justified once the salesperson mentions there's a coupon available? While your brain anchored onto the original price, the discount provided enough incentive to make the purchase feel like a bargain.

What’s more interesting is that sometimes our brains tap into information that’s completely irrelevant to the task at hand. In his book, Predictably Irrational, Duke University professor Dan Ariely recounts what happened when he asked students to write down their Social Security Number before guessing the price of a bottle of wine he brought (a bottle of 1998 Côtes du Rhône). The folks whose last two digits were 80 or higher guessed the wine was worth $20 more than the people whose last two digits were below 20. The numbers had nothing to do with wine, and yet they still had an effect.


Use this knowledge If you’re ever in a situation where you’re in charge of setting a price, remember that the first number presented sets the discussion. This is especially helpful during job interviews: Aim juuust high enough that you'll get the counter-offer you were hoping for. 

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