The school shopping season is almost behind us, so that means that the displays for Christmas shopping should appear in stores any minute now. Looking ahead to the holiday frenzy, here's a head-scratcher. Have you ever purchased something and then later wondered why you bought the thing? Looking back honestly, you never wanted the thing in the first place, but you found yourself buying it anyway? 


If this has ever happened to you the good news is that you are not daffy. Your brain could simply have been affected by something called asymmetric dominance. In plain terms this is called the decoy effect. 


Brain scientists have found that “people gravitate toward the choice nearest a clearly inferior option.” Marketing people use this all the time. “When there are only two options, consumers will tend to make decisions according to their personal preferences. But when consumers are offered another strategical decoy option, they will be more likely to choose the more expensive of the two original options.”


Here's a simple example. “You’re at a concession stand. You have a choice of a small, medium or large soda. The small is $3.50 and the large is $5.50. It’s a tough decision: The small size may not last you through the whole movie, but $5.50 for some sugar and carbonation seems ridiculous. But there’s a third option, a medium soda for $5.25. Medium may be the perfect amount of soda for you, but the large is only a quarter more. If you’re like most people, you end up buying the large. If you’re wondering who would buy the medium soda, the answer is almost no one.”



Scientists and marketing gurus don't know why the decoy effect works, they just know that it does. Plus, it can also be used in business, politics, and even relationships. “Not being aware of a decoy could ultimately cost you your choice, your vote or even your spouse.” For more examples of the decoy effect and some very entertaining videos, go to “Decoy Effect: A Complete Practical Guide” at:


If the decoy effect is not playing games with your brain but you still feel “out of it” there may be a reason. Another study by brain scientists suggests dehydration can impair your ability to think clearly. This is particularly true with athletes. According to a report i(Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise): “Researchers found that athletes who lost fluid equal to two percent of their weight took a hit to their cognition.” 


This is also true in the general public. “Dehydration led to impairment in tasks requiring attention, motor coordination, and so-called executive function, which includes things like map recognition, grammatical reasoning, mental math, and proofreading, for example. Just like a muscle cell needs water, so do the cells in our brain.”


Scientists observe that the right balance is the key, because you can have not just too little but also too much. They warn: “Overdoing things and taking in too much water can lead to a dangerous condition known as hyponatremia. That condition occurs when there’s too much water compared to the amount of salt in the body.” That said: “The big picture here is that the more dehydrated you are the less sharp you are. And your decision-making abilities get lost sooner than later.”



This weekend is the traditional start of the college football season, so brain games will be in full force because football fans will have to decide if they will be BIRGing or CORFing. 


“Basking in reflected glory, also known as BIRGing, refers to the tendency of individuals to associate themselves with the successful, the famous, or the celebrated. A fan’s use of the inclusive term 'we' to describe the victory of his or her favorite team (as in “We won”) is an example of BIRGing.”


On the other hand, fans who distance themselves from a team may have a “tendency called cutting off reflected failure (CORFing).” When describing a game, these fans: “Use the pronoun 'they' to describe the events (e.g. “They blew it”).”



Finally, since this is the Labor Day weekend, ostensibly a celebration of labor, try to wrap your brain around this. A new report by the Pew Research Center tells us that for the average hourly-paid worker: “Today’s real average wage (the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago.” 



The analysis goes on to reveal: “Today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power it did in 1978. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.” 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and