Zero-risk bias is an irrational logic that we apply when making a choice, leading our brains to prefer an option that totally eliminates any risk over options that could in fact eliminate more risks and could end up with better results. So when presented with two options, we will go with the one that eliminates a small risk completely rather than the one that decreases a large risk exponentially because there is still an element of risk involved. This is because we have a cognitive bias that leads us to crave absolute certitude of outcome when we make decisions. Irrationally, we prefer to have a few guaranteed benefits rather than the possibility of much more significant benefits.
For example, researchers analysed financial investment decisions made during the 2008 economic crisis and found they were heavily influenced by the Zero-risk bias: during this time of economic incertitude, investors were much more likely to lean towards “sure bets” such as governmental investments than towards private investments that may have seemed more risky – although would have had much bigger payouts had they come in. Therefore, most people were opting for a much smaller but more guaranteed return than for these higher risk, higher payout options. Research has found that a large number of important political and economic decisions are influenced by this zero-risk bias, for example the implementation of zero-risk health laws to remove any carcinogenic elements from food – regardless of actual health risks or benefits – and the drive for perfect cleanup of hazardous sites. These all come from a focus on complete elimination over targeting where the most difference to actual threats could be made.
Zero-risk Bias has numerous applications for sales and marketing strategies. If you can attach a zero-risk quality to your products or services then customers are more likely to make a purchase – and to choose yours over other options that may contain an element of risk. Remembering that people will most often choose the elimination of risk over a greater decrease (for example, when asked whether they would prefer the option that decreased risks from 5 to 0% or from 50 to 25%, people overwhelmingly chose the former despite the fact that the decrease in risk is nowhere near as significant) means that you can present your products in such a way as to make them appear much more desirable due to the zero-risk bias. For example, should you offer two similar products – one that is better value for money but doesn’t have a great returns policy and another that is much more expensive but offers a 30-day money back guarantee – customers are more likely to opt for the more expensive option because they feel as though there is no purchasing risk attached.