First In Line – Winners Or Losers?

Now that summer’s here and we are knee deep in strawberries and tennis at Wimbledon, our senses for individual’s primacy are being honed as the London Olympics are rushing towards us with the excitement for our expectations building like the anticipation of an English thunderstorm.

Long past is the ideal that what matters is how we competed, not who won. Now first is critical for health, wealth, and happiness. This is even more the case for the Tour de France which starts this weekend. First is where it’s at, last is nowhere.

So where do we stand if we are devotees of Mathew (specifically 20:16 in the King James version) or Bob Dylan with the “last being first and the first being last”? Well in these ‘me first’ times, we don’t buy it. Carni and Banji have worried about this and got down to doing some experiments that are reported out this week (1).

 The question was is the first thing that comes along the winner in our choice. Most of us will say but buying a car is not choosing the first one we’re shown, we want to see several and then we will give the matter the benefit of our grey matter working overtime. Well, maybe not.

The first experiment was carried out by asking 123 participants to make choices of which team they would like to join, which male salesperson they would buy their car from and which female salesperson the would buy their car from. In each case the choices were offered sequentially with strictly equal timing. Participants went for the first ones offered.

The next experiment was carried out in a rail stain in Boston where 207 lone travellers were importuned to make a choice between two pieces of bubble gum that looked similar except for the name. This wasn’t a considered decision which you could give some thought to as in the first experiment. Well, at 2:1, the first was popped into the mouth.

The elephant in the room here is that in both experiments either first or second choice would have been fine, so maybe the first in line was the no-brainer decision. Things now went into a deeper mode. Thirty one participants were shown picture of two criminals convicted of violent crimes in Florida and asked who they would keep incarcerated and who they would parole. Of course, photos were switched around, but again the first in line was chosen for parole, even if he looked to be the most threatening.

So it seems that the first in line is our choice whether they get there by competitive advantage or random chance. Apply this to political hopefuls who we have a healthy skepticism for their promises, the first to speak in a debate, the first name at the top of the ballot, the first to kiss our baby – need I go on, they are likely to be our first choice. I seem to recall that recently a theory was put forward that a coin toss would give us all more effective governments – could they be right?


Leave a Reply