What Is Vividness Bias? | Definition & Examples

Vividness bias is the tendency to focus on certain attributes of a decision or situation while overlooking other elements that are equally or more important.

Vividness bias example
People often prioritize a prospective employer’s reputation, the prestige of a title, or a higher salary over other things that they may value more, such as work-from-home possibilities or a shorter commute to work. Prioritizing prestige over what we actually value most is a sign of vividness bias.

Vividness bias can lead to suboptimal decisions and influence our judgment in different contexts, such as job negotiations, responses to advertising, or choices about a course of study.

What is vividness bias?

Vividness bias is a phenomenon in social psychology in which the most evocative information dominates our thinking and greatly influences our decision-making. In general, the “vividness” of information is the degree to which it is emotionally engaging, concrete, imagery-producing, and personal.

In other words, vividness is essentially the information that is most persuasive or that stands out the most. Recently, vividness bias has become popular specifically in the context of job negotiations, where vividness highlights our concerns to seek status and prestige. Because of vividness bias, we tend to “fall for” the flashier option and are often led to decisions and choices that do not fully align with our priorities and values.

What causes vividness bias?

Vividness bias is believed to be caused by the so-called vividness effect. Here, “vivid” information inherently influences our judgment more than non-vivid information. Vivid messages are thought to be more effective in changing our opinion or behavior. This is because vivid information is more readily available in our memory—we tend to pay more attention to it and recall it more frequently.

Vividly designed communications usually incorporate images, metaphors, and concrete, colorful language. These are more impactful than abstract messages and ideas, like statistics or charts, because the latter fail to draw or hold our attention.

Example: Vividness bias and decision-making
Suppose you are deciding which of two colleges to attend. One college emphasizes figures such as student-to-faculty ratios, graduation rate, and the employment rate of recent graduates. The other college includes factual information, but it also highlights the food available, their winning football team, and funny anecdotes about the campus. Why would a college advertise like this? Because it is a more vivid way to promote the college than dry facts.

Studies suggest that vividness does not affect persuasion, but rather what people think would persuade others, regardless of their own reactions.

Vividness bias example

Vividness bias can explain why we’re more drawn to the fun or bold aspects when faced with an option, such as which company to work for.

Example: Vividness bias in the workplace
Many tech companies in the recent past have tried to outdo one another in their offerings of fun workplace perks, such as ping-pong tables and free gourmet meals. Hiring managers thought that these vivid elements would attract young talent.

Although it seemed like a generally accepted belief that fun work perks were effective, the idea probably worked well at the very beginning, when hiring managers would walk prospective employees through the office. Over time, employees could see through all of that.

These perks served as the vivid elements of the job offer and although some employees were (or might still be) lured by them, recent studies have shown that this is not what young employees want. Instead, workers younger than 35 place more value on respect, which is reflected in some of the increasingly popular perks like flexibility, paid time off, and mental health support. It seems that the longer people are in the workforce, the less interested they are in the vivid aspects of a role.

How to avoid vividness bias

Vividness bias can harm negotiations, so it’s important to have a strategy in place to avoid it. The following steps can help you do so:

  • Be conscious of your priorities. We can’t stop and think about every little decision we make in our daily lives. However, before entering a negotiation or making a decision that can have a major impact on our lives (such as where to study or which job to choose), it’s worth pausing for a moment to think about what is most important to you. Setting our priorities straight beforehand can shield us from vividness bias.
  • Avoid the pitfall of social comparison. We are often tempted to compare ourselves to others, particularly to individuals that society considers successful. This is part of human nature. However, when we compare ourselves to people who have different values to us, we are bound to fall for vividness bias. We might accept the position that comes with the flashier title or expensive electronics, when in reality what we want is a company culture that aligns with our values.
  • Reflect on your choice. Once you have made up your mind, look at the factors you are most drawn to. Are these your true priorities or vivid factors? Thinking through your choice will help you pinpoint vividness bias. Taking a moment to reflect can also help us avoid other types of bias that influence decision-making, like anchoring bias and the availability heuristic.

Other types of research bias

Frequently asked questions about vividness bias

Why is vividness bias important?

Vividness bias is important because it can affect our decisions and negotiations. It causes us to assign more weight to vivid information, like a perception of prestige, rather than other factors that, upon greater reflection, are more important to us. As a result, we get distracted and lose sight of our goals and priorities.

What is a real-life example of vividness bias?

A real-life example of vividness bias can often be observed in the outcome of business negotiations. Price is usually the most vivid information, while other aspects, such the complexity of implementation, or the time needed to complete the project, might be ignored.

What is the vividness effect in communication?

The vividness effect in communication is the persuasive impact that vivid information is thought to have on opinions and behaviors. In other words, information that is vivid, concrete, dramatic, etc., is more likely to capture our attention and sway us into believing or doing one thing rather than another. On the contrary, information that is dull or abstract is not so effective. The vividness effect relates to the vividness bias.

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Nikolopoulou, K. (2023, March 29). What Is Vividness Bias? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved July 10, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/research-bias/vividness-bias/

Sources

Blondé, J., & Girandola, F. (2016). Revealing the elusive effects of vividness: a meta-analysis of empirical evidences assessing the effect of vividness on persuasion. Social Influence, 1(19). https://doi.org/10.1080/15534510.2016.1157096

Collins, R. L., Taylor, S. E., Wood, J. V., & Thompson, S. C. (1988). The vividness effect: Elusive or illusory? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 24(1), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-1031(88)90041-8

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Kassiani Nikolopoulou

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex scientific information into easily accessible articles to help students. She specializes in writing about research methods and research bias.