Selecting the first option turns out to be the best choice for most people, reveals a new study.
The study by Dana R. Carney, assistant professor of management, University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and co-author Mahzarin R. Banaji, professor of psychology, Harvard University.
In three experiments, when making quick choices, participants consistently preferred people (salespersons, teams, criminals on parole) or consumer goods presented first as opposed to similar offerings in second and sequential positions.
The researchers say their findings may have practical applications in a variety of settings including in consumer marketing.
"The order of individuals performing on talent shows like American Idol. The order of potential companies recommended by a stockbroker. The order of college acceptance letters received by an applicant. All of these firsts have privileged status," said Carney.
"Our research shows that managers, for example in management or marketing, may want to develop their business strategies knowing that first encounters are preferable to their clients or consumers," she added.
The study found that especially in circumstances under which decisions must be made quickly or without much deliberation, preferences are unconsciously and immediately guided to those options presented first. While there are sometimes rational reasons to prefer firsts, e.g. the first resume is designated on the top of the pile because that person wanted the job the most, Carney said the "first is best" effect suggests that firsts are preferred even when completely unwarranted and irrational.
The study cites, "a preference for firsts has its origins in an evolutionary adaptation favouring firsts ..." For example, in most cases, humans tend to innately prefer the first people they meet: a mother, family members. In addition, those preferences are associated with what's safe.
According to Carney, the historic concept of the established "pecking order" also supports their findings that people find "first is best."
The study was recently published in PLoS ONE.