OMG! What have I done?

Pandiyan Vairamani
5 min readOct 31, 2020


Buyer’s Remorse and other such Matters

The world is running wild now. Wild fires, wild protests, wild virus, wild leaders, wild conspiracy theories and of course US elections.

One upside to all this the amount of material it gives to serious people watchers. Behavioural scientists get to see their theories and hypostheses play out in the real world. Normal people like us get to understand many interesting concepts and explanations about human nature.

I find two such phenomena unfold in the current US elections. Let us not take sides; let us not argue for or against enything. Let us just look at a group of people who voted for Trump in 2016 and proved many political pundits and pollster wrong.

Many voted for Trump in all seriousness. They all had their own reasons. The group included not just the typical Trump supporters. Many were not conservative in their views; many were very educated; some were even liberal. Many voted not for Trump but against Hillary Clinton. Many voted for the Green Party which again helped Trump. And then there many who did not vote which was crucial in almost even battle.

Now it looks like this group which got Trump elected in 2016 may get to decide who wins 2020 elections.

Behavioural scientists have described some interesting processes which occur after people make a critical decision. Say in this case, voting for Trump in 2016.

The first one is called Buyer’s Remorse. It was formulated more in the context of commercial world of marketing, selling and business. It works like this. You have your mind set on buying something expensive and desirable. Say, a designer watch or an iPad or whatever. After committing yourself to your decision and buying you realise that it is not all that great as you thought. And you have already spent your money and cannot go back. You may feel guilty or regret. That is buyer’s remorse.

What happens then? It has something to do with another psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. You have two competing and conflicting thoughts in your mind. You think you have good judgemnet and you think you have made wrong judgemnet. That is very unsettling. You need to reduce that discomfort.

On one hand, you cannot disown the decision you made. You may have to justify it to your friends or partner why you spent so much money. You defend your decision. You brag; you repeat what salesperson said about it. You point out shiny features.

At the same time you have your own doubts. Expensive iPad is used mainly for games or some odd reading. The costly designer dress needs a very special occasion and there are not many. You know you have been unwise in spending the money.

And now you have to reconcile both these scenes to reduce the stress you feel because of the cognitive dissonance. The way we reduce dissonance is to change the way we think or believe. And the result of the decision will also have a significant impact. Good marketers know that it is not enough to induce people to buy but you have to make them feel reassured and happy about the purchase. They do many things to convince you of your decision. Showing you new applications, new features, how other customers are reaping benefits. And you are desperately looking for reasons to justify your decision. If I voted for Trump in spite of not liking him and at least some of his actions after the election are in line with some of my expecations, it will help me pacify myself. Otherwise, remorse is strong.

So all those who saw Trump’s actions as President as not something they approve of will have difficulty getting over the remorse and may decide to switch. Now they critically look at anything Trump does to justify their switch. Let us cut our costs and abandon him. This would be one group.

Then there would be another group which in the same initial situation of being unsure about their choice and still having to defend. They would look for reasons to support their choice in Trump’s actions or even the indirect effect of his actions. Oh, he is shaking up the establishment. He is going after the elites. We don’t mind his personal quirks even if we don’t approve of them.

This group may actually showcase another phenomenon called the escalation of commitment. I have made a choice. I have invested my energy and time in explaining and justifying it. I can’t change now. I need to look for reasons to support it. This may lead some into choice-support bias. This is a cognitive bias — error prone thinking — which plays with our perception and interpretation of reality. Cherry picking, selctive memory, false memory, confirmation bias and such help the individual to fit the reality to their constrained world view. Like many businesspeople who make wrong project assessments and can’t halt and cancel the project because it is too expensive to fail. They find numerable ways in which project looks good even if it is millions over budget and months behind schedule. Very clear to outside observers but not the insiders.

Let us leave it to the readers to decide which group is more and will tilt the election and how Trump has helped or derailed his chances by his actions.

Now let us look at some ways we can control ourselves rather than be swayed by our unconscious impulses or dirty marketing tricks. Buyer’s remorse is a common experience for many of us. It may not be only the votes we cast and the money we splurge. Even marriage. How many movie plots and tv sitcoms would disappear if spouse didn’t experience buyer’s remorse and find that daily life is not so romantic.

  • Tried and tested old remedy. Allow sleep-over time. Consciously decide not to decide when you fee the urge. Some people never buy anything near supermarket checkout counters. If you really need something, make another trip exculsively for that. If there is no deep enough reason, you won’t go back. If there is a deepenough reason to buy something tagetting impulse buyers time for some serious interrospection. Talk to a friend. So take time off before any big decision.
  • Some people try to list pro and cons against each other. They brainstorm and consciously list why they should do something and why they should not. Initially teh list would be empty on one side. But couple this method with the first one. Do this exercise over a period of time. You will find more items on either side. Alternatively ask someone else to add to your list. Don’t talk to interested salespeople or politicians. They are trained to talk customers out of developing coldfeet or buyer’s remorse. They are interested in only one side.
  • Let us realise that this happens to all of us. And the experience may actually help us think and act smartly if we go through the process and learn. The key of course is the distasteful experience of failure. But taking constructive lessons from the failure is the right definition of useful experience.

Let us hope that you and I have less occasions to say, ‘OMG! What have I done?’ or ‘For the love of God, I did right.’ even when we think it is wrong.

The cover image is from used under Creative Commons License.



Pandiyan Vairamani

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