Why are we so in love with the cameras that we own and so disparaging of those brands we don't own?

The answers seem to lie in a book by author, Paul Bloom, entitled: How Pleasure Works. The New Science of Why We Like What We Like.

I am a truly addicted reader and, contrary to legend, I do read as much non-fiction as fiction. I am currently making my way through Paul Bloom's book and it's giving me fresh insight into the endless brand wars between otherwise rational photographers.

Leaving aside our initial buying decisions for a moment, the book makes the argument that once you've chosen something and received it the object attains an "endowment value." Basically it means that the object is no longer an anonymous and replaceable thing but it is now yours and by the very nature of you possessing it the object has more value to you.

Bloom references a study of market valuation which was done to bolster this idea. Essentially, a person is offered an object of value for a set price. His example was a coffee cup for five dollars. Once the person had committed and bought the coffee cup she was then offered six dollars to sell back the cup. In general the persons in the test refused and considered the cup to have a much greater value now. While the transaction would have netted the test subject a quick dollar of profit in mere seconds they were emotionally unable to logically understand the objective value proposition. It seems that the endowment valuation is at work in every purchase that we, as consumers, commit to.

A second issue is the power of having made a choice. It seems that making a choice between random but identical objects invests the chosen object with more value and degrades the value of the identical item not chosen. The test described in this example was a bar game in which you have three identical coasters. You hide one coaster and then ask the test subjects to make a choice between two remaining coasters. Remember that the coasters are identical. The test subject is still asked to make a choice.

After choosing the tester brings out the third identical coaster and asks the test subject to choose between the previously declined coaster and the newly revealed coaster. Almost without exception the subjects chose the newly revealed coaster signaling that the previously rejected coaster was less desirable and so not a good choice.

It seems that once humans make a commitment to own something both the power of choice and the (irrational) endowment of value come into play and cause us to defend our choice and denigrate the unchosen objects. Other studies bolster these findings and speak to their near universality, not only amount humans but also among some other primates.

There is another related force at work which keeps us "loyal." We, like almost all species, are more comfortable with a known thing or experience than a new or unknown thing or experience. In happy relationships satisfaction with partners is shown to increase over the long term specifically because our partner is known and safe. Safety is the basic parameter we are all trying to achieve so we can continue living and safely pass on our DNA. As a result of millions and millions of years of evolution the compulsion to choose safety over implied, additional, but unknown benefits is an overwhelming one. The longer we work with a brand the more comfortable we become with its operation and even its quirks, even if they are demonstrably inferior to the products of competitors. That familiarity and understanding of "safety" tends to cement our relationships and, by extension, our brand loyalty.

In short, you like your camera better than my camera because you chose your camera (for whatever external or rationalized reasoning=marketing? Group persuasion? ) and you like my camera less than your camera (even if it's performance is identical) because you initially did not choose it. You have further cemented your positive appraisal of your camera through familiarity and your dismissal of my cameras choice because it is relatively unknown to you and therefore relatively unsafe.

And this is why Canon lovers love Canon cameras and Nikon lovers love Nikon cameras and etc., etc.

I know. You are an engineer, I.T. guy, math guy, and you think you made only logical choices and are immune to the psychology of choice. Paul Bloom and I think you are wrong.

I haven't gotten to the part of the book where relative rewards of new risk taking are covered but I can impute that it is risk taking that moves the species forward in an evolutionary way by uncovering the risk/reward math involved in having new methods or efficiencies made available. Either that or I am also making the same kinds of rationalization as above to bolster my camera choices.

Multi-system owners? Either they want to have the right tool at hand for a specific job or, more credibly they are trying to cover all of their bases so they can enhanced their perceived safety and ranking in their tribe.

The book and the research are eye-opening and a bit humbling. But it all boils down to sex and survival.  You might find it all interesting.



shooter said...

An interesting synopsis but, there's always one of those right, I think the cup scenario is more to do with greed, they would rationalise given that deal it's got to be worth more so decide not to keep it.

On a personal level I have shot with Olympus cameras for a good while now, during that ownership I then sold them and bought the new at the time Pentax K5 and assorted delicious primes. I loved the shutter action on it and everytime it fired it was as smooth as butter. The reason I dropped back to olympus was due to being disappointed with their dust reduction it was pants compared to the olympus cameras I'd owned and secondly I cycle a lot and like to take a kit with me. The weight differential as you know Kirk is significant that added to the dust reduction in the olympus made it a no brainer.

I also have a Ricoh GR which is lush and the files it produces are special akin to leica methinks, sadly now that Panasonic have done what I'd hoped for a long time and produced the delicious LX100 I think the Ricoh is soon to part. I think that this may just be the perfect camera for my needs.

I also like you own a Blad because I love the square shape and B&W shot with them is just so special.

Frank Grygier said...

This explains the guilt I begin to feel when I consider another camera system and why I drive an eleven year old car.

AlexG said...

I have tried most brands on the market and have to say I preferred some more than others for my use. I know some cameras are better than mine but I either don't need what they can do or they are too heavy etc. Some cameras are not as good as the ones I use due to various factors such as controls that don't gel with me, I don't think you could buy a bad camera now though, only if its not suitable for your use. But I have been known to say I'll use any old piece of junk.

tnargs said...

This is a good excuse to buy one of every brand of camera: so that the *next* camera we buy will be free of this phenomenon!

Anonymous said...

Very insightful.

Can't figure, however, why some feel compelled to completely disparage similar consumer products that have the same features and performance but happen to display a different brand.

As many have said, output is usually indistinguishable. The rest, including hollow rationalizations for choices made, is marketing.

Michael Matthews said...

It's interesting to read about irrational values assigned to identical objects -- the coasters example -- and see the tendency to defend one's choice.

That may figure in an earlier generation's nearly fanatic devotion to brands of cars. Loyalty stirred feelings akin to patriotism. Huge amounts of money were devoted to disrupting loyalty, working to switch the car buyer from one brand to another.

Consider the leveraging up of anticipation each year at new model introduction time. Advertising budgets exceeded the GDP of some smaller nations. Endless barrages of seasonal hype on television and in print. Bizarre styling binges. Rampant escalation on the horsepower front.

Only when federal standards for emissions and safety strangled the evolution of muscle cars in the mid-1970s did the American male finally lose interest.

Now that cars are largely interchangeable and dull, decisions are more often based on the available terms for financing or leasing. Gas mileage. Warranties. Ugh.

So we turn to opportunities for purchased superiority in other tech: cameras, smartphones.

If it's shiny it can be sold.

Mr said...

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, The Little Prince

This goes for cameras, too ;D

Anonymous said...

Another consideration, whether with technology or marriage or anything of any complexity where choice is necessary, is the investment in learning and knowing the good and the quirks of your choice. I chose Nikon because they sold a lens that interested me at the time and Canon was still developing it. Probably 90% of what I've learned since is applicable to any camera manufacturers' family and 10% particular to the chosen family. That 10% is a level of comfort that would have to be overcome needing a much better reason than religious devotion to my prior choice.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Good rationalizations everyone. Keep up the good and self-delusional work.

steve said...

Very interesting read. It rings true. I have bad gas and I think you are right about

"trying to cover all of their bases so they can enhanced their perceived safety and ranking in their tribe."

I have; Nikon, canon, Leica, Pentax, mamiya, but I consider my self a Rollei guy.

I don't know if I'm trying to cover all my bases or just a case of my inner 5 year old, he who had the most toys wins!

Ray said...

You always have to take psychologists with a grain of salt. They're always trying to analyse why things; but like economists, if you ask two of them for an opinion, you'll get three different answers.

Gordon said...

The sales trainer Tom Hopkins said that "people buy things with emotions and then defend those purchase decisions with logic". I've found this to be especially true with cameras and lenses but especially sensors. The "huge differences" in DR, ISO noise and resolution are often quoted but rarely utilized in the field.

No many people will admit they bought something that's really a luxury just because they liked it. Even working pros, like you and I, often buy stuff for not purely objective reasons.


Craig Yuill said...

Kirk, since I started reading your blog you have gone through some amazing changes of gear, acquiring cameras and lenses that help you achieve what you need to achieve as a professional photographer/videographer. But I think that one of the benefits for us non-pros to being loyal to a particular brand or model is that (one hopes) we owners will concentrate on actually using and mastering our cameras and lenses rather than constantly fretting over whether or not one of "the others" is better. I think it is better for me to take photos with what I currently have than spend all of my time reading reviews and pining over the latest offerings from various companies. Developing little-to-no interest in gear reviews has, personally, been very liberating.

neopavlik said...

What about the grass is greener on the other side phenomenon ?

Nigel said...

The answer to the first part is easy - if we didn't, we'd go out and buy a different camera.

The second bit (at least in my own case) just isn't true.

I might think that Canon are, for the time being at least, a bunch of numpties, but I find myself looking covetously at multiple products of manynbrands I don't own.

I suspect I'm not alone.

Eugene said...

These are exactly the kinds of behavioral characteristics us marketing professionals exploit to our companies' advantages...these choice points and investments drive politics too.

If I do my job right, I exploit the public/market to advantage my product, resulting in financial rewards for me...so I can buy Canon...no, Olympus....no Nikon....sh!t, these behavior thingies are being used on me too!!!! Aaaahhhhh!

Brad C said...

So really we should trust the review sites more than independent bloggers that actually own the products, I wonder? Most people state that the purchased the camera or review item with their own money in an effort to show they are not influenced by the company - but this research seems to show that buying it yourself istills another bias - to defend the choice! I'd be interested to hear how you feel about the Samsung cameras - do you feel your relationship with Samsung imparts more or less pressure than your own choices?