Bias du Jour #3

by F.

When subjects were asked how much happier they believe Californians are compared to Midwesterners, they consistently said Californians are happier. In fact, there is no difference in the happiness of the the two groups. The subjects’ response is explained, in part, by the focusing effect or focalism:

The Focusing Effect: People tend to place too much importance on one aspect of an event to the exclusion of other aspects.

For instance, in the situation described above, subjects seemed to think about California and focus on the nice weather and the supposed laid-back lifestyle of Californians. They tended to ignore other factors such as high crime rates in certain areas, traffic congestion, and natural disasters like earthquakes, all of which are also features of California.

Cite: Schkade, D. A., & Kahneman, D. (1998). Does living in California make people happy? A focusing illusion in judgments of life satisfaction. Psychological Science, 9, 340-346.