Slideshows | December 18, 2018

Present bias and choice overload – a behavioural economist at Christmas dinner

The festive season can be an emotional time. Jess Exton takes a light-hearted look at how this affects decisions.

If you dread the approach of Christmas, it might be because emotions typically run high. At this time, people don’t always make the choices they’d normally make at other times of year.

The traditional family meal is a prime moment to spot how people do things differently during the festive season when the pressure is on.

Home bias, an illusion of control, choice overload, and hindsight bias can all play a role for starters, as decisions must be made about everything from decorations to dessert.

In this year’s celebratory slideshow, you might recognise these “festive” feelings in someone among your family, your friends, or yourself.



Home bias
Everyone’s Christmas is a little different, yet everyone always does Christmas exactly the right way. Typically, people prefer “their own”.


Illusion of control
Yours may not resemble the Holy Family: things don’t go peacefully despite the best-laid plan (you might prefer a nativity scene).


Salience bias
So many festive items scream out for attention on the day that something dramatic on its own, like a cracker, may have little impact.


Choice overload
Many families go “multiple choice” on Christmas meals. But when there’s so much to choose from, we must take shortcuts to decide.


IKEA effect
When we make or cook something, even Christmas dinner, for ourselves it can taste so much better than when made by others.


Familiarity bias
And because we know the special recipes of our family Christmas so well, it’s only too easy to claim “mum’s is best”.


Present bias
It’s easy to gorge on the day’s celebratory treats, from desserts to cheeses or chocolate, and worry about the diet later.


Hindsight bias
Feeling festive? A Christmas beverage is in order! But will you regret it tomorrow? You might say you knew better really.


Inequity aversion
Gift giving can be an uncomfortable experience if someone overspends on an item for one person, and others don't.


Hyperbolic discounting
Post-Christmas sales are for a limited time only. But did we really need those bargain decorations or another cut-price jumper?

FamilyHolidaysHyperbolic discounting

eZonomics team
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