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Transformative Insights of Behavior Change in The Illusion of Choice by Richard Shotton

Dive into the profound exploration of behavior change with ‘The Illusion of Choice’ by Richard Shotton. This thought-provoking masterpiece unveils captivating insights into human psychology, promising a paradigm shift in your understanding. Get ready to embark on a journey where choices are not what they seem.

Discover the secrets behind behavior change – continue reading to unlock a new perspective and transform your approach to decision-making.

Transformative Insights of Behavior Change in The Illusion of Choice by Richard Shotton

‘The Illusion of Choice’ intricately dissects the intricate web of factors influencing human decisions. Shotton navigates through psychological nuances, revealing how external forces mold our choices. From marketing tactics to societal pressures, the book dissects the subtleties that define our decision-making processes. A captivating journey through the realms of behavior change awaits.

Richard Shotton’s ‘The Illusion of Choice’ stands as a beacon in the realm of behavioral literature. The author skillfully weaves together research, real-world examples, and practical insights, offering a compelling narrative that keeps readers engaged. The depth of analysis on the interplay between psychology and decision-making is commendable. Shotton’s ability to translate complex concepts into accessible language makes this book a valuable resource for marketers, psychologists, and anyone intrigued by the intricacies of human behavior. The book is a game-changer in understanding and leveraging the subtle forces that drive behavior, making it a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper comprehension of decision dynamics.


Psychology, Marketing, Consumer Behavior, Behavioral Economics, Decision Science, Neuromarketing, Social Psychology, Advertising, Cognitive Psychology, Non-Fiction


Consumers may think they’re making informed choices, but in reality, advertisers are guiding buying behaviors by leveraging human psychology and behavioral science, explains Richard Shotton. Drawing from peer-reviewed research, Shotton – who’s spent more than two decades applying the hidden factors behind human behavior to marketing – teaches you how to trigger meaningful consumer behavior change. Learn how to transform your target consumers into your most loyal customers and why familiarizing yourself with the hidden biases behind the “illusion of choice,” can work to your brand’s advantage.


  • Leverage human psychology and behavioral science insights to trigger new habits.
  • Learn when to add or remove friction to inspire your desired behaviors.
  • Boost memorability with repetition, humor and audience engagement.
  • People are more likely to believe information that’s specific and easy to process.
  • Enhance perceived value with knowledge of the information consumers avoid.
  • Treat people fairly and avoid authoritarian messaging to inspire behavior change.
  • Reap the benefits of two powerful biases: the “red sneakers effect” and the “halo effect.”
  • Craft peak experiences and endings that surpass your customers’ expectations.


Leverage human psychology and behavioral science insights to trigger new habits.

As a marketer, if you’re not taking advantage of insights from human psychology and behavioral science, you’re missing valuable opportunities to inspire the behavior change you desire. Your marketing decisions should reflect more than your intuitive or gut instincts. Inform your approach with peer-reviewed insights into how humans think, feel and behave to add robustness to your strategy. Researchers have identified thousands of hidden factors influencing human behavior. When you learn the triggers of consumer behavior, you give yourself a wider range of potential solutions to marketing challenges.

“Since habits account for such a large proportion of behavior, marketers need to understand the latest thinking on how to successfully create them.”

Familiarize yourself with these six insights to inspire consumer behavior changes:

  1. Choose your moment – People are most likely to change their behaviors and adopt new habits at the onset of a specific time period such as the beginning of a week or after celebrating a birthday.
  2. Create cues – Use a distinctive cue, or trigger, to prompt consumers to take your desired behavior. For example, finishing breakfast can act as a cue to brush your teeth.
  3. Work with existing behaviors – Turn an already-familiar behavior or event into a trigger for a new behavior. For instance, establishing a flossing habit is easier if your cue is brushing your teeth.
  4. Simplify behavior change – Make your desired behaviors as easy to adopt as possible. For example, pharmaceutical companies selling birth control pills include a week of sugar pills to allow consumers to maintain their daily pill-taking routine, even on days when the hormone pills aren’t needed.
  5. Uncertainty wins – People are more likely to complete a desired action if their reward for doing so is uncertain. Rather than having customers slowly earn a free coffee by acquiring stamps on a loyalty card, for example, restaurant company Pret a Manger began offering customers a random chance at being given a free coffee when they go to pay – with great effect.
  6. Repetition cements new habits – Consumers don’t change their behavior overnight. To make something a habit, you must support the new behavior over a sustained period. Research from Phillippa Lally at University College London indicates that it takes about 66 days of repetition before someone begins to perform a new behavior without thinking about it consciously.

Learn when to add or remove friction to inspire your desired behaviors.

Many marketers focus only on “helping forces” that push consumers toward taking their desired action. They fail to consider the “hindering forces” that keep people from performing those actions. Consumers tend to choose pathways with the least amount of friction, so make a concerted effort to remove unnecessary hurdles. This could entail pre-populating forms or introducing one-click purchasing options, like Amazon. Make the first step of your customer’s journey as simple as possible to inspire buy-in, before asking consumers to exert more effort.

“People mistakenly fixate on helping forces when they should give precedence to hindering ones. Think more about releasing the handbrake rather than pushing on the accelerator.”

Sometimes friction works to your benefit: You can leverage it to prevent people from taking an undesirable action. For example, the British government made it more difficult for consumers to overdose on paracetamol by introducing suicide-prevention legislation that only allowed pharmacies to sell consumers one pack of pills at a time. Adding a small amount of friction can also boost perceived value, a phenomenon researchers call the “IKEA effect”: People tend to value something more when they’ve spent some time assembling or attaining it.

Intentionally adding a layer of difficulty may also serve you when requesting an investment: Research shows that people are three times as likely to agree to a request when the asker has previously requested a more sizable commitment of time or resources from them. For example, if you ask someone to commit to a marathon, and they refuse, they’ll be more likely to commit to running a 5K race.

Boost memorability with repetition, humor and audience engagement.

People are more likely to remember a brand name when they are forced to exert some effort to do so. In one study, researchers Richard Shotton and Mike Treharne showed a portion of their 415 participants the full name of a brand – “the bank HSBC” – and then showed the others only part of the name – “the bank H_BC.” They repeated the experiment with numerous brands in five distinct categories. Participants remembered 92% of the brand names when they had to mentally generate a missing letter but only recalled 81% of the names without missing letters. Put another way, the study participants were two and a half times more likely to forget the name of the brand if they just saw it.

You don’t need to literally omit letters from your brand name to benefit from this bias – consider simply making your point or alluding to your brand more obliquely, prompting audiences to work a little to understand your message. Likewise, asking audiences a question, as opposed to making direct statements, prompts them to engage more with your content and thus remember it better.

“The best ads are often memorable because they make you work a little: you feel clever for figuring them out, and you want to talk about them with your friends.”

People have a bias toward remembering things they hear or see more than once. Use this bias to your advantage by choosing concrete words that people can easily visualize – such as “skinny jeans” or “cashew nut” – as opposed to more abstract words, like “innovative quality” or “wholesome nutrition.” Humor can also boost memorability: Research from Tel Aviv University psychologist Avner Ziv found that students exposed to humor when learning statistics scored 11% higher on an exam than students who received a joke-free statistics education. Marketers can play to this bias and create positive brand associations with humorous branding and ads.

People are more likely to believe information that’s specific and easy to process.

Many marketers are no longer taking advantage of the power of rhyme because they’re trying to impress their peers with techniques they view as more sophisticated – but they’re missing out on a great memory booster. People generally find information presented in a rhyming manner easier to process and more believable – a bias that psychologists refer to as the “Keats heuristic.” Apply this bias to your marketing efforts by using rhyming slogans or ad copy. If you’re reticent to use rhyme as a tactic, consider using alliteration, as people also tend to remember alliterated phrases more and view them as more believable.

“Choose your words wisely: they have the power to change behavior.”

You can also improve your brand’s believability by using more precise figures that convey value. Resist the temptation to round numbers off – advertising you have “one million customers” rather than “over 1.15 million customers.” People believe statistics are more accurate and credible when they’re specific. Consumers also associate non-round numbers with greater value. For example, if a brand says something costs $4.85, as opposed to $5, consumers are less likely to think the brand has unfairly inflated the item’s value above its wholesale cost.

Enhance perceived value with knowledge of the information consumers avoid.

When you have knowledge of the information audiences have an aversion to (or simply don’t notice), you can use it to your advantage in three ways:

  1. “Base value neglect” – Consumers tend to focus on the number associated with an offer rather than the “base value” of the item to which the offer refers. Thus, they’re more likely to choose packages that feature “a 50% bonus” over the ones advertising a “35% discount” – even if the latter is a better deal.
  2. “Extremeness aversion” – If you hope to sell an option at a certain price point, consider offering a lower-priced and higher-priced option. People tend to choose the option they view as between two extremes.
  3. “Denominator neglect” – People pay more attention to numbers presented as headline figures. Something as simple as enlarging the font size of your sale price before juxtaposing it beside the “normal” price (featured in a smaller font) can help you apply this bias.

Treat people fairly and avoid authoritarian messaging to inspire behavior change.

Consumers prefer to support brands they perceive as treating them fairly. A Northwestern University study revealed that people will even refuse benefits to themselves to uphold their desire for fair treatment: Participants turned down the money and declined to participate in the study when someone told them that the study organizers had offered other subjects slightly more cash. Connect with consumers by appealing to their sense of righteous indignation, perhaps pointing out the ways that your competition treats people unfairly.

Provide justifications if you plan to raise your prices.People have a tendency to comply with requests when you couple them with rationales prefaced with the word “because,” regardless of whether the justification itself is entirely rational.

“You need to temper your language when trying to change the behavior of others. It’s often better to charm rather than cajole.”

If you’re trying to change people’s behavior, research shows that it’s better to ask politely than to demand change. This is especially true if you’re communicating a message to your loyal customers: Those more deeply invested in their relationship with your brand might perceive authoritarian messaging like, “Don’t write on the walls!” as impinging on their freedom. This sense can make them feel compelled to resist – particularly if they’re from more individualistic cultures.When communicating rules to your customers, be polite and use a low-authority figure – a groundskeeper, for example – to convey your message rather than a higher authority figure like a police chief. People don’t enjoy experiencing an imbalance of power.

Reap the benefits of two powerful biases: the “red sneakers effect” and the “halo effect.”

Humans have a tendency to conform – mimicking others, to fit into social groups. However, sometimes people will follow those going against the status quo, as a means of differentiating themselves from the masses and positioning themselves as part of a desired group. Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino calls this “the red sneakers effect.” This label alludes to the fact that, in tech, people often signal a higher status by dressing more casually, eschewing traditional business attire for more relaxed items of clothing like red sneakers. In advertising, breaking conventions by embracing more experimental designs can help you harness the red sneakers effect. Use your discretion regarding whether your brand possesses the perceived status required to benefit from breaking with convention and make sure you demonstrate intentionality if you choose to do so.

“Consumers use tangible factors that are easy to spot to make predictions about unrelated, but harder to ascertain, factors.”

Brands can also benefit from the “halo effect,” which refers to people’s tendency to believe someone (or something) has many positive traits upon observing a single positive trait. If people have little prior knowledge of your brand, the halo effect will be more prevalent, as buyers will make more inferences about your brand to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. The halo effect can be particularly significant when it comes to more intangible attributes. For example, you could theoretically boost people’s perception of your product or service’s quality by elevating another metric, such as the attractiveness of its design.

Craft peak experiences and endings that surpass your customers’ expectations.

Your brain can’t encode every single experience, but it prioritizes some more than others. In 2003, University of Toronto researchers Donald Redelmeier and Daniel Kahneman (who were at the University of California, Berkeley at the time) ran an experiment in which they asked colonoscopy patients to recall their memories of their medical procedure. Interestingly, patients’ memories hinged primarily on two moments – their experiences of peak discomfort and the end of the procedure. Your customers are unlikely to remember every detail of their experience with your brand, but will recall their final moments and the most or least pleasant parts of their experience – a bias called the “peak-end rule.”

“The peak-end rule helps marketers as it gives us guidance on where to focus.”

Use this bias to create better customer or user memories of your brand:

  1. Prioritize the most memorable moments – Identify peak positive experiences, negative experiences with the potential to escalate, and the end of your customer journey.
  2. Fill in “troughs” – People tend to remember negative experiences more than positive ones. Take steps to reduce people’s negative perceptions of potentially painful experiences.For example, to prevent airline passengers from having to wait too long for their bags, Houston Airport revamped the routes passengers walked through after deplaning, adding eight minutes to their walk. Once passengers reached the baggage claim, their luggage had arrived.
  3. Heighten “pinnacles” – Focus on creating one or two outstanding moments, surprising users with positive experiences.
  4. Craft a good ending – End customer experiences on a high note, leaving people with a bonus experience that surpasses expectations.

About the Author

Richard Shotton (@rshotton) is the author of The Choice Factory and the founder of the consultancy Astroten. He’s spent 22 years applying behavioral science insights to marketing, working with brands such as Barclays and Google.

Nina Norman is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. She has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Nina has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. She is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Nina lives in London, England with her husband and two children. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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