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Feature: Avoid These Watches

Buying a watch isn’t as easy as it sounds. You might be wondering how hard handing over a credit card can really be—but if only it were really that simple. Being the fleshy meat sacks that we are, we are incredibly susceptible to enormous flaws in our logic. Ergo, you may think you’re buying the watch you really want, but your brain, she tricks you. Let me explain.

The Watch That’s Too Good To Be True

Would you consider yourself a savvy buyer? I certainly would. Like I’d consider myself an above-average driver and expert conversationalist. The reality is, however, unlikely to be true. Many of us are, as is the statistical likelihood, average. We’re not the best, but we’re not the worst either. We’re about right.

This misalignment between the perception of ourselves and the reality of our capabilities is that we, as human beings, have a tendency to show bias towards, well, ourselves. Hardly a spectacular revelation I’m sure, but the weirdest thing about is that it’s not just for show—we genuinely believe it. This illusory superiority, also known as the above-average effect, gets even weirder when it goes meta, because it also means we think we’re less susceptible to personal bias as well.

The very extreme of this extends to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias that manifests as greater levels of confidence in those with lower ability. Experts in their field are mostly seen to be reserved about their understanding—the completely incompetent overestimate themselves immensely. You probably know someone just like that.

But why do people do this, and how does that relate to buying watches? It’s an evolutionary advantage, a competitive edge. Alongside illusory superiority, a healthy brain typically exhibits two more cognitive illusions: illusion of control—where a person perceives themselves to have more control over a situation than they do—and optimism bias—where a person believes they are less likely to experience a negative event. It’s why lottery tickets sell so well.

This instinctive push towards risk-taking opens up the potential of greater reward—but it also leaves a nasty blind spot in our brains that can be, well, hacked. Ever heard the expression, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? Yeah, we all have, but unfortunately these biases can still, despite everything we empirically know about deals that seem too good to be true, make us consider taking that risk regardless and getting scammed. Well, you may have evolved to think that risk is worth taking, but it invariably is not. Do not buy that watch.

The Watch That’s A Good Deal

Here’s another expression for you: “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey”. I’m sure that would look great printed on a poster of a cat, to inspire you to live your best life and all that, but unlike many of those inspirational regurgitations that consume the remainder of the internet that isn’t gentlemen’s leisure, it actually has some meaning to it.

When we “win”, that is to say accomplish something, we get rewarded with a lovely little dose of dopamine. Dopamine, scientifically speaking, is yummy. Therefore, we tend to do what we can to get more of it. Evolutionarily speaking, this pushes us beyond just mere survival, rewarding achievements with a feel-good factor—and the bigger the achievement, the better the feeling.

Actually, it’s not strictly true that dopamine is the reward; rather, it’s delivered in anticipation of the reward. Therefore, when you see a watch unexpectedly pop up that’s a good deal—not too good to be true, we’ve covered that, but pretty decent—your brain goes into overload. Get a new watch now and get it for a bargain price? That’s a win-win, right? Well, as far as the double dopamine hit you’re about to get, it certainly is. You simply cannot go wrong.

Except … you can. What’s happened here is that your brain tricked you into thinking that the immediacy of the purchase and the temptation of the discount were the same as actually wanting the watch itself. Instead of researching and waiting for the right watch to come up at the right price, you’ve impulse purchased a watch that could be as cheap as you like and will still never satisfy—and you won’t find that out until it’s too late. So, just because a watch is a great deal, doesn’t mean it’s the one for you. Don’t be fooled; your brain may reward you in the short term for rushing to the finish line, but the long-haul benefit is always going to be in the time spent getting there.

The Watch That’s Good On Paper

It’s easy to like something, but, for some bizarre reason, it’s very difficult to understand why. For instance, why do we like, or not like, the colour red? It’s not so simple as relating back to a memory where you found a hundred dollars on a tin of red paint or ate a red berry that made you swell up like a balloon. Preference is, it seems, rather abstract.

There have been many attempts to draw evolutionary benefits to preference. For example, the preference towards the tastes of fat and sugar because of their high levels of energy—although there are a lot of people who don’t actually like those things. Are they broken? Or is preference dictated by something else? It seems that logic and preference aren’t quite so intertwined as they perhaps should be.

Maybe, then, it’s conditioning? Subtly related positive experiences in early life that have created neural connections that feed a sense of reward when fired? Happy times with your family whilst there’s music on in the background, perhaps? By that logic, you should like the same things your parents do—but I’m pretty certain most people here won’t be listening to the same awful music their dad does. The reality is there are a number of avenues that guide and shape preference—and no one really knows what they are.

One theory suggests that preference comes from a desire to understand our environment, fed by inquisitiveness that explores the periphery of what we’re already familiar with. You may seek out music similar to the music you already like, but over time that journey may slowly evolve into something completely new. This means that every person’s compendium of preferences is entirely individual to them, a uniquely intricate web of things that collectively appears to defy sensible reasoning.

And that leads us on to the last watch you should very much avoid: the one that’s only good on paper. It could tick all the boxes you like in spec and size and price, but if it doesn’t fulfil the unfathomable tangle of neurons that we call personal taste, no amount of logical reasoning is going to make you like it. Believe me, I found this one out the expensive way. Several times.

If life were simpler, it’d be boring, and it’s thanks to the complexities of the meat-based computers pulsing inside our skulls that it is not. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, far from it; there’s many a pitfall our evolved way of thinking can send us down, and in this case, understanding a few of them might just save you some cash, help you net the watch that’s really right for you. You should listen to me; I’m really pretty confident I know what I’m talking about.

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