Time pressure is a strange thing. Some people claim they thrive under it, some people say they hate it. And it’s one of the most-studied of what we call “visceral states”, so we know quite a lot about it.
For instance, we know that under pressure your “system 1” processing pushes you towards simpler, or more default options – the first things that come to mind. This would explain a finding like this one, by Theresa Amabile of Harvard – that it’s quite hard to come up with creative or new solutions when under time pressure.
And this is the case even when the person under pressure is an expert – someone whose default option you might expect to be better. This study of chess players, which rated the first move they thought of as well as the more considered options they came up with, found very little difference between experts and non-experts. And for both, the more considered move beat the default one.*
Don’t go for the default – you need to check, mate.
But life isn’t a chess game. What’s interesting to me about the chess study is that for easy problems, the first move thought of might not have been the strongest, but was still pretty strong. Our default options might not always be the best, but they don’t have to be: they ought to be good enough to deal with most issues.
And as we know, in the gap between deliberative best and default good enough, there’s plenty of room for marketers. At BrainJuicer we’ve started putting people under time pressure in packaging research, because it more closely approximates real shopping conditions. It turns out that across a range of brands simpler, more emotionally appealing packaging loses out to informational, message-heavy packs when people have time to consider decisions. But when forced by time pressure to choose the easy option, more go for emotional appeal.
*as the article points out, when you look at the outcomes of whole games under time pressure, not just individual moves, experts DO win out. So expertise can help, probably by triggering better pattern recognition.