Marketers take note — being first has its advantages.
New research shows people's preferences are unconsciously and immediately guided to those options presented first, especially in circumstances when decisions must be made without much deliberation.
In three experiments, when making quick choices, participants consistently preferred people and consumer goods presented first, as opposed to similar offerings in second and sequential positions.
The study's authors say their findings have practical applications in a variety of settings, including consumer marketing.
"Our research shows that managers, for example, in management or marketing, may want to develop their business strategies knowing that first encounters are preferable to their clients or consumers, said Dana R. Carney, the study's co-author and assistant professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
As part of the research, the study's participants were asked to evaluate three different groups, including two teams, two male sales associates and two female sales associates. After being presented with each group's options, the study questioned the participants on their choices both by asking their preference up front and then having them complete a reaction-time task adapted from cognitive psychology in which participants' automatic, unconscious preference for each option was assessed.
Regardless of whom people said they preferred, on the unconscious, cognitive measure of preference, participants always preferred the first team or person to whom they were introduced, according to the research.
To test the theory on consumer goods, the researchers asked more than 200 passengers at a train station to select one of two pieces of similar bubble gum within a second of seeing the choices. The study found that when thinking fast, the bubble gum presented first was the preferable choice in most cases.
The researchers believe several factors could be behind the study's results, including that the preference for the initial choice has its origins in an evolutionary adaptation favoring firsts. The authors point to the example of how in most cases, humans tend to innately prefer the first people they meet, such as a mother and family members.
Carney said the historic concept of the established "pecking order" also supports their findings.
The study, "First is Best," was co-authored by Mahzarin R. Banaji, professor of psychology at Harvard University and recently published in the journal PLoS ONE.