The Narrowing Effect: Understanding Time Pressure in Customer Experiences

The Narrowing Effect is a result of not having enough time to make a decision. To manage the stress of time crunches, we focus on a main task and ignore or filter out all other things. This helps us make a decision quickly when we have to but may increase our risk of not making the best decision. Here are some examples from the think with Goolge post, Time Pressure: Behavioral Science Considerations for Mobile Marketing:

People were given descriptions of 30 hypothetical car models and were asked to give the likelihood that they would purchase a car.1 They were given five different attributes for each car. Those who were put in a time-pressure condition were more likely to narrow in on the negative attributes, which they weighted far more heavily in their selection process. In essence, time pressure encourages individuals to rule out products based on the one attribute they don’t like rather than optimize based on the many attributes that they do like.

A related study showed the same narrowing effect when people were asked to choose apartments.2 Among all the different elements to consider about an apartment (such as size, quality, and distance from work), people who were put under time pressure focused primarily on the distance from work and underweighted all other criteria.

In another example of attention narrowing, a study of military personnel under time pressure showed that they examined less information, which led to reduced ability to detect submarines.3  

The Narrow Effect narrows your customers’ focus, giving you only a brief moment to grab their attention and direct their choices. Remember this when designing your next customer experience.

1 Wright, P. (1974). The harassed decision maker: Time pressures, distractions, and the use of evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 59(5), 555-561. doi:10.1037/h0037186.
2 Svenson, O., Edland, A., & Karlsson, G. (1985). The effect of verbal and numerical information and time stress on judgements of the attractiveness of decision alternatives. In L.B. Methlie & R. Sprague (Eds.), Knowledge representation for decision support systems. (134-144).
3 Entin, E. E., Serfaty, D., & Alphatech Inc., Burlington MA (1990). Information gathering and decision making under stress.