The Focusing Illusion

10th January 2022

1 minute read

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman coined the phrase “The Focusing Illusion”, which is that ‘Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.’

Or in other words, whatever we’re thinking about, or our attention is drawn to, is given much more significance in our minds simply because our attention has been drawn to it in the first place.

From The Drum:

“Research with an online furniture retailer in the US illustrates this perfectly. In a seemingly simple test the retailer decided to pre-direct visitors either to the idea of ‘comfort’ or ‘economy’. To do so they changed the background image on the site to either fluffy clouds or pennies. Everything else about the site was left unchanged –product range, pricing, etc.

The results were fairly startling. In the case of those people that had visited the fluffy cloud version of the site, most had assigned elevated levels of importance to comfort when asked what they were looking for in a sofa. They searched the site for more information pertaining to comfort and overwhelmingly ended up choosing and buying a comfier and more expensive sofa than those not exposed to this version of the site.

And just to make sure that the results were due to the background image and not to some human predisposition to comfort, the pennies version of the experiment worked in a similar way. These ‘penny version’ visitors assigned greater levels of importance to price, searched mostly for cost information and went on to buy more inexpensive sofas. Of course, (as is often the way with explicit feedback) most of the recipients claimed to have not been affected by the background images in any way.”

In the same way, we buy more Italian wine if the shop we’re in is playing obviously Italian music.

Written by Rob Dobson

Rob Dobson has been working in digital and building websites for 20 years. From designing and developing the world’s first internet bank in 1999 (, he founded Northern Comfort in 2010.

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