On a recent trip to New Orleans to attend the Louisiana Academy of Audiology meeting, I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Dr. Daniel Mochon, who will be the keynote speaker at the AAA 2020 General Assembly, sponsored by Amplifon. AAA 2020 + HearTECH Expo will take place in New Orleans, Louisiana, April 1–4. 

From downtown, it’s a quick trip to the Tulane University campus. If you have time when you’re at the annual conference, it’s worth a visit. The best way to travel from downtown to Tulane is the St. Charles trolley. You feel like you’ve traveled back in time as you enjoy the brass trolley fixtures and the old-time trolley bell while you pass the iconic Garden District homes, with their wide porches with open-air ceiling fans.

Getting to Know Dr. Mochon 

Tulane University has a lush campus that is home to magnificent live oaks. I met with Dr. Mochon in the beautiful glass-faced building that houses the A.B. Freeman School of Business.  

Dr. Mochon holds the Edward H. Austin Professorship in Business Administration in the Tulane University Freeman School of Business. He joined the Tulane faculty after completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Brown University and a PhD in Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management. At MIT, he studied with Dan Ariely, who was named one of the 50 most influential living psychologists in the world. 

Dr. Mochon is a behavioral economist focused on consumer behavior and decision making. His research includes the investigation of consumer perceptions of value in the health-care space. 

A Look at Behavioral Economics

Behavioral economics is a method of economic analysis that applies psychological insights into human behavior to explain economic decision-making. This is a science that explores how consumers see value and how they make purchasing decisions. 

With the disruption and expansion of pathways to hearing help, many audiologists are thinking about how to communicate the value of what they do. I was ready to jump into this discussion when we met, but Dr. Mochon started the conversation with a broader perspective of the connections between audiology/hearing science and the foundations of behavioral economics. 

The study of behavioral economics originated with Daniel Kahneman and his study of bias in vision based on context (look up “moon illusion” just for fun). In essence, the human brain uses heuristic techniques for sensory  processing that lead to predictable mistakes. 

In other words, we look for satisfactory solutions based on the sensory context that may not be optimal or correct. Behavioral economists rely on psychophysical principles that demonstrate that perception is all about change, not absolutes. Humans are sensitive to changes in perception, rather than absolute perceptions.

Catherine Palmer, PhD, visits Dr. Mochon in New Orleans
Catherine Palmer, PhD, visits Dr. Mochon in
New Orleans.

Although I have been fascinated with behavioral economics and the potential for better understanding consumer decisions related to pursuing hearing health care for a long time, I hadn’t thought about the similar origins of hearing science and behavioral economics—an unexpected nod to our colleagues in psychoacoustics!

Dr. Mochon’s Work

Now I was ready to pose a few of the questions I had been wondering about. 

Audiologists often work with baby boomers, and I was wondering if we should expect consumer behavior in the baby-boomer population to be different from other generations. It turns out that consumer behavior isn’t really connected to generational differences, but it is connected to age. 

I think purchasing conducted by individuals pursuing amplification and assistive-listening devices is especially interesting because it involves a commodity (device) and service. Do the rules of consumer perception have to be applied differently, depending on whether we are approaching a product versus a service? What if what is being offered combines both, as in the case of a customized hearing aid purchase?

Dr. Mochon explained that, not only do different rules apply, the rules continue to change, depending on the number of choices the individual has and who is presenting the choices (a trusted expert versus a website). 

These are issues that are particularly meaningful to audiologists as we move into a disruptive time in terms of patient access to devices. We’ll explore the answers to these questions at the General Assembly.  

Single-option aversion and choice deferral are topics Dr. Mochon spends time on (For an interesting read, see “Single-Option Aversion,” Journal of Consumer Research, 40, October 2013). 

Applied to hearing health, it is interesting to think about how the impending over-the-counter hearing aids will fit into this model. Will this number of choices be overwhelming and promote choice deferral (no action) or will this drive individuals to the expert who can help them navigate these choices?  Will we be ready to meet consumers where they are in this journey? 

Did you know that the “choice set” affects consumer choices? The compromise effect predicts that consumers will choose the middle option when there is an ordered range of choices (think basic, standard, advanced hearing aid technology). They feel good that they aren’t wasting money (top choice), but aren’t compromising quality (bottom choice). 

Learn More in New Orleans

Companies take advantage of this knowledge of consumer behavior all the time. Is there a place for understanding these types of behaviors in health care? This is an interesting question that we’ll explore further at the conference. 

No matter what you do, the way consumers perceive value and make choices has a direct impact on your ability to interact with them successfully. 

I look forward to seeing you at the General Assembly and exploring all of these issues as they apply to audiology and hearing health care, with the expert guidance of Dr. Mochon.