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Psychological Barriers

Definition #

A psychological barrier is a perception that impedes an action usually by creating a sense that the activity is overly burdensome or that some unstated prerequisite is unfulfilled. The result is often procrastination.


Psychological barriers are not insurmountable, but they're annoying.

(Photo: Wikimedia)

Example #

In a study of 401(k) enrollment, only 40% of employees took advantage of matching programs (note that this is basically free money). Most employees viewed the task of enrolling as annoying and simply took the passive do-nothing route.

Ramit Sethi likes to talk about psychological barriers and how to overcome them. In that post, he also mentions how one could use psychological barriers to intentionally prevent oneself from doing an action. For example, people who have trouble using credit cards responsibly can freeze it in a block of ice so that it is available for emergencies, but is otherwise annoying to access.

Commentary #

Psychological barriers provide insight into the origin of responses such as "I didn't have a pen at the time" in response to why someone might forfeit thousands of dollars in matched retirement incomeā€”the perception of complexity (no matter how small) can shift one's decision away from even ridiculously beneficial activities.

Moreover, we gain insight into the world of advertising. Note how advertisers try to tear down the barriers between you and an order for their product ("order today", "act now", "call now", "but wait there's more") and how they try to create barriers for the "problem" that their product "solves". Of course we always knew that television is the opiate of the masses.

Updates #

2023-11-28 #

  • Updated broken links.