Today I made a very important purchase, a new toothbrush.
Stick with me, I promise there’s a point to this!
Using them every day doesn’t negate their importance to our bodies or the importance of their impact on the environment.
I am sure all of you responsible owners of teeth know that a toothbrush is made of plastic and plastic is extremely bad for the environment.
When I decided this morning that I needed a new one, I threw out the old one.
I immediately thought about all of the horrible photos floating around Facebook about the impact of that small decision, I didn’t make it lightly.
Recently, I read about the alternative, bamboo toothbrushes, and I have been thinking about buying one because they sound amazing.
It occurs to me though that there might be some drawbacks to that also.
For instance, are they hygienic? They are more porous after all?
Are they really environmentally friendly?
If they are not hygienic, but environmentally friendly, should I still use them?
Can I compensate for their drawbacks (if they exist) with my mouthwash?
I clearly need to do some research before making an informed decision.
None of these questions are broached in your standard “eco-friendly” argument, in fact, only the positive is focused on, and let me tell you, it’s convincing?
In psychology, this is called the “framing effect”
The framing effect is when how something is presented, influences the decision that is made about it.
Sometimes presentations are designed to trigger an emotion or maybe appeal to what you already think.
Focusing on one aspect of a decision can obviously distract you, but it can also help you to make a decision which you might not otherwise make because the implications seem so huge.
A 2004 study found that people were more likely not to opt-out of organ donation programs than actively opt-in, even though it is essentially the same decision.
This might be because when you opt-in you have to think about death and what will happen to your body when you no longer need it, whereas not opting out means simply doing nothing,
Maybe opt-out programs focus on saving lives more so than death.
The point is that the content is the same, but the framing of it and the decision people make is different.
Of course, not all framing strategies employed are as noble as saving the planet or someone’s life, the framing effect is used in advertisements and political debates.
And neither politicians nor big business is known for prioritizing our well-being.
So it is really important that when you hear someone’s argument or when an advert appeals to you-you stop and think before you decide.
Judgments and decisions are different.
Judgments involve how we feel about something or someone, I like that person or I don’t.
Whereas a decision usually involves an action, judgments influence decisions.
I once heard a speaker advise her audience to “neither reject, nor accept” what she was about to say, only listen.
I try to apply that to my life when I can, it is only human to become overwhelmed by the emotional side of something or to mindlessly scroll through social media (or watch TV), soaking up all sorts of messages like a big emotional sponge.
Yep, I’m guilty of that one too!
But when you stop and think about things, you can make much better decisions, or at least less bad ones.
I don’t want you to get me wrong, I am not anti-environmentally friendly. I believe the challenges we will face in the very near future due to our disrespect of the planet are some of the most complex and difficult we will face as a species.
I also believe that you and I have a responsibility to change how we live our everyday lives to do as little harm as possible, and that will mean finding kinder alternatives to the products we buy.
Part of being responsible is looking at the whole picture and not just the pretty frame it’s presented in.
Indeed, bamboo toothbrushes may well be perfectly hygienic, and the most environmentally friendly way of cleaning your teeth there is.
What I am advocating is 1. stopping and thinking and 2. doing some research to educate yourself before you make decisions, as I will be doing.
Because things are just not always what they seem.
Until next time,
Johnson, E. J. & Goldstein, D. G. (2004). Defaults and Donation Decisions. Transplantation, 78(12), 1713-1716. Available here