The Big Bang Theory is a classic example of the application of psychology, as the show has displayed many different psychological concepts, from classical conditioning to sleep deprivation. In this episode Leonard and Sheldon want to buy a replica Game of Thrones sword from Stewart at the comic book store. In their negotiation, Sheldon is very keen whereas Leonard is trying to haggle down the price.
Stewart: “I see you guys have found my little treasure.”
Leonard: “Yeah… pfft… it’s okay I guess…”
Leonard: “What do you want for it?”
Stewart: “Oh well, it is hard to put a price on something that was a copy of something that was on paid cable…. But, for my friends, let’s say $250?”
Leonard: “Ohh… that’s pretty steep.”
Stewart: “Oh, well it’s a limited edition; they only made 8000 of these bad boys.”
Leonard: “Can you do any better?”
Stewart: “Are you kidding? I’m already giving you the friends and family discount!”
Stewart: “I’ll tell you what, I’ll go $235…”
Leonard: “Nope, maybe another time.”
Stewart: “Okay, $225, and that’s my final offer.”
Stewart: “Awh man, you’re killing me!” “$210, and I’m losing money.”
Leonard: “$210 and you throw in the iron man helmet.”
Stewart: “Are you crazy? That helmet it signed by Robert Downy Jr.”
Stewart: “Ok, if you are going to question the importance of an actor’s signature on a plastic helmet from a movie based on a comic book, then all of our lives have no meaning!”
Leonard: “Okay fine, just the sword, $210.”
Stewart: “Thank you, I can eat meat this week.”
Leonard begins by seeming disinterested in the sword (e.g. “Yeah… pfft… it’s okay I guess…”), and casually finds out what Stewart would want for the sword.
Stewart is given the opportunity to make the first offer, which is working as an anchor for the rest of the negotiation, Leonard ignores the anchor by immediately discounting it, complaining it is too expensive (e.g. “Ohh… that’s pretty steep.”). In order to change the value of the sword, Leonard uses questions (e.g. “Can you do any better?”).
As Stewart does not offer a concession, Leonard asks for one himself (e.g. “$200”), making an anchored counteroffer for which negotiation is based on. Stewart gradually gives Leonard concessions that are more in line with his anchor (e.g. “$235”, “$225”, “$210”).
It seems $200 was outside of Stewart’s zone of possible agreement (ZOPA) as it would have lost him money, but in the end he haggled the price to his reservation value (i.e. the lowest price he was willing to accept from Leonard; Malhotra & Bazerman, 2007).
Both Leonard and Stewart displayed the use of anchors in their negotiation. Anchors are offers that narrow the negotiator’s attention and beliefs (Malhotra & Bazerman, 2007). They are used to sway the negotiation and have been found to strongly influence the final outcome (Malhotra & Bazerman, 2007). For example, Northcraft and Neale (1987) invited estate agents to view a house that was for sale and were asked to evaluate it. They were all given information (high prices vs. low prices) about the other houses on the road and surrounding area, which were used as anchors. They found the estate agents who were given the high price list valued the house as more than those given the lower price list. Therefore the prices of the neighbouring houses anchored the estate agents valuation of the house.
All of the tactics used in the Big Bang Theory episode would work in most negotiation situations, if applied correctly. Now – time to negotiate me a job!
Malhotra, D., & Bazerman, M. H. (2007). Negotiation genius: How to overcome obstacles and achieve brilliant results at the bargaining table and beyond. New York: Bantam Books.
Northcraft, G. B., & Neale, M. A. (1987). Experts, amateurs, and real estate: An anchoring-and-adjustment perspective on property pricing decisions. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 39(1), 84-97.