Context effect

Theory explained by Oreoluwa Akinnawo

The Context Effect is a cognitive bias that describes how people are influenced by environmental factors through one's perception of a stimulus. The impact of context effects is considered to be part of the top-down design.

What Is The Context Effect All About ?

Essentially, people tend to respond to stimulus based on the context of their present situation, this is because the context effect relies heavily on Priming. Priming occurs when the previous reception of one type of information in active memory affects the processing of subsequent related information. A notable experiment on how context effect works in psychology is the Beer on the Beach Experiment by Richard Thaler. In the experiment, participants were asked how much they would be willing to offer for a cold bottle of their favorite brand of beer if they were lying on the beach on a hot day. When told the beer will be gotten from a fancy resort hotel, people offered to pay $2.65 on average. When told, however, that the beer will be gotten from a small, run-down grocery store, people offered to pay $1.50 on average.

People were willing to pay more for the fancy resort hotel beer than one from a run down grocery because one connotes luxury while the other connotes affordability, and people made their decision on how much to pay accordingly.

How Can One Manage The Context Effect ?

Being aware of the Context Effect can both mitigate this cognitive bias’ negative impact and enable us to make use of its helpful effects. Context effect, if used wrongly can influence your visitor behaviours in ways that can be harmful to your business. By being aware of the Context effect, you can remain conscious of how certain situations may influence your visitors’ decision-making.

Branding/Image: If you are writing copy, creating content or designing amazing products, you’ll need to carefully consider the type of voice you’d like to represent your brand and its effect on the context that surrounds you. Whatever you decide, make sure that you are consistent across all channels and that you have your ideal customer in mind when formulating a brand voice.

Context effect example

A good example is in how Apple markets its tablet device, Apple makes use of the Context Effect by contrasting their product against the computer.

If you’re crafting a value proposition and don’t provide context to help visitors retrieve memories, you’ll run into problems. Say you solve the problem of note taking during business meetings, but your visitors aren’t at work or in a meeting. Remembering how difficult/annoying taking notes is may seem a distant memory. Use context (e.g., images, keywords) to bring that memory to the forefront.

Consider how this can be used in PPC advertising. If you want to solve a business problem, target people during business hours. Target people who are in the best context to make the decision you want them to make.


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1. How Context Affects Choice

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