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BW Businessworld

Mind Versus Brain

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One twenty six American students were shown a series of 20 rather boring photos of people going about their everyday business — having lunch, working their laptop, and so on. The students were told they would have a quiz on the photos later on, and asked to focus on the facial expressions. Some of the photos had a bottle of Dasani water, a brand that was not the market leader among students of that state. In others, the bottle had been airbrushed, so some of the students saw 12 photos that  had the bottle, some saw four and others saw it in none of the photos.

After looking at the pictures, students chose a bottle of water as a reward for taking part. They also answered questions on whether they had noticed any brands in the photos. Most didn’t notice the product placement at all, with only 27 per cent of those who had seen 12 Dasani photos recalling doing so. But even among these students, the effects on their choices was strong. Only 17 per cent of students who didn’t have Dasani in their pictures chose that brand, while 40 per cent of those who saw 12 did, a good pointer that even subtle product placement.

Unthink: And How to Harness the Power of Your Unconscious by Chris Paley has insights like this that are a goldmine for marketers, team leaders, and wannabe romeos. Through a compilation of over a 100 experiments that studied human decision making, Paley argues that our minds don’t make decisions for us. Our minds only justify decisions that our subconscious has already made for us. So, you have experiments that would suggest that we don’t choose something because we like it, we like it because we chose it; that arguments are used for defending choices, not making them; that we have an emotional attachment to the rational reasoning behind our irrational decisions; and that when something’s really bad, we have to blame someone, even if it is the victim.

A politician would do well to invest in his looks — that factors quite a lot into people’s voting tendencies. A manager could give his team an unrelated task if they are struggling with a problem, since not thinking is the best way of thinking, and a salesman would do well to have slicked back hair, a shiny suit and dazzling white teeth. It helps them smoothly shift whatever it is that they are selling.

The question is, should you fall for it. But then again, if your subconscious has decided, can you do anything about it? Maybe reading the book might keep it on it's guard.  

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 09-03-2015)

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