Everything is relative – toothbrush edition

The human brain is so easy to fool – just mix up absolutes and relatives.

I use Oral-B’s electric toothbrush with the CrossAction brush heads. Last week, I noticed that the brush head had worn out, and we’d run out of replacement stock at home. We still had an unopened Pro White (teeth whitening) brush head that came with the toothbrush, so I started using it. I also ordered an 8 pack of CrossAction brush heads off Amazon.

I’d been using the new brush head for a week when got this niggling feeling that maybe using a whitening brush head daily isn’t that good for my teeth. What if it was hurting the enamel or some such thing? (I’m no dentist!)

So, I opened one of the new Cross Action brush heads as well, and started alternating between the two. At the same time, I (re)started brushing teeth twice a day. In the morning, I’d brush with the whitening brush heads as before, and in the evening with the new Cross Action brush heads.

Of course, in absolute terms, I’m still using it at the same frequency as before. So, if there was any damage being done by it, it’s still being done at the same rate. But by looking at it relatively, I’m only using it half the time. So, it makes me feel good.

We, humans, understand relatives easily, and are pretty rubbish at absolutes (or at least it takes an effort). This makes the mixing of absolutes and relatives as one of the most common ways to fool us – something that marketers and politicians employ quite well.

And when there’s no marketers and politicians, we fool ourselves. With toothbrush heads.