Make them read more with the anchoring effect

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Continuing our look at how psychology can have a positive impact on reading and libraries this post looks at how we can have students reading more books using the anchoring effect.

The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias and typically, when it comes to psychology, it’s used a lot in retail!

In shops they use the anchoring effect a lot to make you think you’re getting a better deal than you actually are. For instance, if you go into a shop and see a great pair of jeans that you’d love to have you immediately look at the label and see they’re £100. ‘Too much’ you think and you put them back. The sales assistant quickly siddles over and tells you it’s your lucky day as the store is having a 40% off day. ‘Brilliant’ you think, you can now buy the jeans and feel like you got a great deal. Another example is when you barter the car salesman down from the £25,000 list price to £22,000 what a great deal and what a haggler you must be? The answer is actually no. You’re not. You see what’s happening here is the anchoring effect. As its so hard to think about the value of things you need some sort of cue or reference point. That comes in the form of the price price you are given. You see, as human beings , we are too easily influenced and put too much stock in the first piece of information we are given. The £100 jeans are just too much but when we’re told they’re actually only £60 in comparison to the £100 they’re a really good deal. But the question is would we have paid the £60 if this had been the initial price?

So knowing that we are influence d by the first piece of information we are given in terms of the anchoring effedt, how can we use this in our libraries and with our young people to encourage more reading?

One thing we’ve been working on is how this might look in terms of challenging young people to read a certain number of books through the school year.

We used our yr8 students as a test group and gave them, at the beginning of the year an assembly on reading. We gave them an example of an ordinary student, one that some of them knew from older siblings and one that we knew was relatively ‘cool’. We described him as someone who surprisingly (to some) enjoyed reading. We gave them the figure of 20 books a year that he usually read. Not loads, but as we were really aiming this test at our weaker, or reluctant readers it was a believable number (the student in question knew all about this having given us their permission to try this – they were now a sixth former studying psychology!)

This was our anchor. 20 books a year. We followed by explaining that of course we didn’t expect everyone to be able to reach this amount but to honestly think about how many they might be able to achieve. We told them that even half would be a fantastic achievement. We then asked them to write down the number they felt they could achieve in their planners.

When looking through their estimations in the following weeks it was interesting to see that many of them had put closer to the 10 mark. It was even more interesting to see that there was a large number of students that had put close to ten that I knew would previously had said none or very few. Now, whether it was the assembly and the anchoring effect that had caused this and whether the students do actually read as many as they thought it would be interesting to see. When talking to the students it certainly feels they are reading more but we will continue to remind them of their thoughts and estimations throughout the year.

I’m sure there are other ways that the anchoring effect might be used to encourage reading and we will certainly try and find as many as possible!

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