Getting something for free can be a wonderful thing under the right circumstances, but it also has the power to influence the way you think in unfortunate ways. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, has studied the power of free in various ways. The findings always seem to point to one thing: foolish and/or irrational decisions.
Photo by Jhong Dizon
In a recent experiment, Dan and his team offered free tattoos to people in a night club. 76 people signed up for free tattoos, the average age was 26, and the average level of drunkenness was pretty low (2.64 on a scale of 1 to 11). But would they be getting this permanent tattoo if it wasn't free?
When we asked the people in line for the free tattoos if they would get the tattoo if it were not free, 68% said they would not. They were only getting it because it was free. We also asked the participants if they knew that there were free tattoos being offered at the party. The 90% that knew they would be giving away free tattoos were asked two follow-up questions. First, when asked when they made their decision to get a tattoo that night before or after arriving at the party, 85% said they made their decision before arrival and 15% made the decision after arriving. When further asked, on a scale of 0-100, how likely did they think they were to get a tattoo that night, people were on average 65% sure they would be getting a tattoo.
Some participants didn't even know what they wanted, but rather that they didn't want to pass up the opportunity to get some kind of free tattoo. The results seem to say that we're willing to do things we wouldn't normally do if they weren't free. When something is free, we get excited and don't want to pass up the opportunity. Dan suggests that the way to beat this is to ask yourself a simple question: if this "free" thing was extremely cheap (like $1), would you buy it? If not, it's a good sign that you might want to pass up on the free opportunity.
The Power of Free Tattoos [Dan Ariely]