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Explained: Behavioral science analysis of why customers sometimes focus too much on one thing.

HCPs, patients, or even payers can often fall into the trap of "missing the forest for the trees" because they can focus too much on one category benefit or a certain set of product features.
ImageNewristics Image07 October 2019

What is Focusing Effect?

Do you ever miss the forest for the trees? Most people, even well-trained detail-oriented doctors, do. Sometimes we concentrate too much on a single detail, causing us to overlook other details that can be useful for constructing a more holistic understanding of something. For example, a doctor may place such a high degree of importance on the 1-year survival rate of a new cancer drug without considering other measures indicating the quality of life during that year's extension.

Focusing Effect removes the rationality that allows people to weigh all aspects of the decision proportionately and instead causes them to focus on a single part of it disproportionately, preventing them from making a choice that is well-informed and thoughtful. We use the Focusing Effect in all facets of life, causing us to overvalue some parts and undervalue others.

Is Focusing Effect to blame for your poor decisions?


We are likely to use the Focusing Effect in all aspects of life because when there is a lot of information surrounding a decision, it can be too much for a human’s brain to handle at once. So, we choose to start by focusing on one aspect of the decision that seems the most important.

The first impression that we get causes us to anchor and overfocus on it because the first item of information in a sequence is seen as the most important. Although not rational, the Focusing Effect plays a huge role in the decision-making process, preventing us from seeing the full picture.

Focusing Effect when Buying Protein Drinks

You may have fallen for these tricks before! When searching for a protein drink, we may be so focused on the high protein content of products, that we disregard some of the other ingredients that may be doing more harm than good. Look at the Odwalla chocolate protein shake, for example– this drink is 410 calories and contains a whooping 47 grams of sugar and 450 mg of sodium.

True, it does meet a fitness enthusiast's demand for protein with 32 grams per serving, but the downside of the other ingredients can quickly outweigh the benefits. A savvy shopper may evaluate different protein drinks for multiple ingredients, but many won’t, especially when time and energy are limited.

Focusing Effect as a Fitbit user

You are nearing the end of the day and realize you have only reached 8,000 steps today. You bundle up and go outside to get the remaining 1,500 more for your daily goal.

Many FitBit or similar fitness trackers and app users focus obsessively on the number of steps they take a day and even start using it as a proxy for health. They forgot that walking is only one small component of health. If your goal is to be healthy physically and mentally, steps are only one effort you need to make to achieve your holistic health goal.


How to Feed or Fight Focusing Effect

First, thoroughly analyze your product, service, or situation for the signature characteristics of Focusing Effect.

  • Are small details getting too much attention? Not enough? 
  • Could the bigger picture be more important? Less important?
  • Is another detail more impactful or meaningful to the audience?

You can feed Focusing Effect when marketing products where specific features need to be highlighted or you have services that are popular among large groups of consumers.

On the flip side, you can fight Focusing Effect by shifting attention away from focused characteristics or shifting attention from popular services.