The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #102 — The Best Way To Process Big Data Is Unconsciously

picture of David Eagleman wearing his sensory vest
David Eagleman wearing the sensory vest

Jason is 20 years old and he’s deaf. He puts on a special vest that’s wired so that when it receives data, it sends pulses to his back.

The vest is connected to a tablet. When I say the word “book” into a microphone that feeds into the tablet, the tablet turns the word into a signal that is sent to the vest. Jason now feels a pattern on his back through his sense of touch. Initially, he can’t tell you what the word is. I keep saying words and he keeps feeling the patterns. Eventually, he’ll be able to tell me the words that he’s hearing. His brain learns to take the pattern and translate that into words.

The interesting thing is that this happens unconsciously. He doesn’t have to consciously work at learning the patterns.

This describes an actual project by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist from the Baylor College of Medicine.

Sensory Substitution — Eagleman calls it sensory substitution. Information comes into your body and brain from your eyes, ears, touch, and so on. But did you know that the brain is actually quite flexible and plastic in this regard? When data from the environment comes in, from any of the senses, the brain figures out the best way to analyze and interpret it. Sometimes you’re consciously aware of the data and its meaning, but most of the time your brain is analyzing data and using that data to make decisions, and you don’t even realize it.

Sensory Addition — Eagleman takes the idea of sensory substitution a step further, to sensory addition. He has people (without hearing impairments) put on the vest. He takes stock market data and uses the same program on the tablet to turn the stock market data into patterns, and sends those patterns to the vest. The people wearing the vest don’t know what the patterns are about. They don’t even know it has anything to do with the stock market. He then hands them another tablet where a screen periodically appears with a big red button and a big green button.

Eagleman tells them to press a button when the colors appear. At first they have no idea why they should press one button versus the other. They’re told to press a button anyway, and when they do, they get feedback about whether they’re wrong or right, even though they have no idea what they are wrong or right about. The buttons are actually buy and sell decisions (red is buy, green is sell) that are related to the data they’re receiving, but they don’t know that.

Eventually, however, their button presses go from random to being right all the time, even though they still don’t know anything consciously about the patterns. Eagleman is essentially sending big data to people’s bodies, and their brains interpret the data and make decisions from it—all unconsciously.

Engaging the unconcsious for big data — Big data refers to large data sets that are combed for predictive analytics. The idea is that if you can collect massive amounts of data, even disparate data, and analyze it for patterns, you can learn important information and make decisions based on that information. Data sets of Internet searches, Twitter messages, meteorology, and more are being collected and analyzed. But how do you convey the information in a way that makes sense? How can you get the human mind to see patterns in what at first seems like meaningless data? The conscious thought process is not very good at this task. The conscious mind can handle only a small subset of data at one time, but the unconscious is great at taking in large amounts of data and finding patterns. If you want to see the patterns in big data, you have to engage the unconscious.

A Sensory Room — Other scientists are also working on the idea. Jonathan Freeman, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Paul Verschure, a professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, have created the eXperience Induction Machine (XIM). The XIM is a room with speakers, projectors, projection screens, pressure-sensitive floor tiles, infrared cameras, and a microphone. A person stands in the room and big data visualizations appear on the screen. Freeman and Verschure monitor the response of the person in the room through a headset. They can tell when the person is getting overloaded or tired, and then they can make the visuals simpler.

Go direct — When you work with big data, consider the idea of bypassing complex visual analysis and how to represent the data analytically. It’s probably better to feed the data directly to sense organs and let the brain do the analytics.

For more information — Here’s a great TED Talk by Dr. Eagleman

If you liked this article check out my new book, 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 

 

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365 Ways To Persuade And Motivate: #13–Talk to the unconscious

picture of an iceberg“We want them to type in their email and click on the “Join” button”, was the response from my client as I asked him what was the one action he wanted people to take on his landing page. Good. That was clear. But now the question was what else should be on the landing page to persuade people to click.

Like most of my clients the landing page was filled with lots of reasons why the visitor should click and join, but almost all of those reasons were “logical”, and most were about price. The people coming to the landing page didn’t have a relationship with this company yet — it was unlikely they would click and join based on a few weak logical arguments.

I started asking questions:

“What are your potential customers afraid of?”

“What makes them mad or frustrated?”

“Do they feel taken advantage of?”

“How could they feel like they were a hero?”

Silence. My client was ready to tell me all the features and benefits that his service would provide, but he didn’t really know about the emotional state of his potential customers.

That’s not uncommon. In my experience, many teams bringing new products and services to market know only the barest of information about their customers and potential customers, and rarely have done actual audience research on the unconscious needs, emotions, and feelings of their target audience.

Which means that their landing pages, marketing campaigns and advertising are hit and miss at best.

Research in psychology over the past several years shows us clearly that most mental processing occurs unconsciously. Most of the decisions we make are fueled by our unconscious. It is only after we’ve decided to act that we figure out a conscious, logical reason for why we did what we did. We use that conscious logical reason to explain our decisions and actions to ourselves and others, so it’s important to provide those logical reasons. But if you really want to persuade and motivate someone to take action you have to talk to the unconscious. The unconscious understands things like:

  • fear
  • loss
  • sex
  • food
  • love
  • belonging
  • being a hero
  • danger
  • challenge
  • mastery

The unconscious pays attention to words if they are short and evoke feelings. But it pays much more attention to pictures, music, and moving images (i.e. video).

If you want to persuade and motivate people to take action you need to know what they are afraid of, afraid of losing, how they feel they can “save” the day, and/or what will make them feel loved or part of the group. Then you need to use some of those ideas in your words, headlines, and have pictures, video, and music that matches. If you want to persuade and motivate people you have to talk to the unconscious.

What do you think? Do you know the unconscious factors and messages that persuade and motivate your target audience?

If you would like to learn more about the research on unconscious mental processing, I recommend:

Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson

or my book, How To Get People To Do Stuff

and consider attending my  seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

How To Get People To Do Stuff: #1 — Use Nouns Instead Of Verbs

"I am a voter"This blog post is the first of a new series called “How To Get People To Do Stuff”. It features nuggets from the book I am writing by the same name due out in March of 2013.

I’m also starting a new format of doing video blogs. So first is the video, and then below it is the text that I talk about in the video.

Let me know what you think about the new topic series and whether you like the video format!

Here’s the research:

Walton, Gregory and Banaji, Mahzarin, Being what you say: the effect of essentialist linguistic labels on preferences, Social Cognition, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2004, pp. 193-213.

In a survey about voting, Gregory Walton at Stanford sometimes asked  “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” versus  “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?”

The first sentence was phrased so that the emphasis was on the noun, “voter”. The second sentence emphasized “to vote”. Did the wording make a difference?

11% more voted — When the the noun (be a voter) was used instead of the verb (to vote), 11% more people actually voted the following day.  Why would nouns affect behavior more than verbs?

Needing to belong — I had always learned that using direct verbs resulted in more action. But if using a noun invokes group identity, that will trump a direct verb. People have a strong need to feel that they belong. People identify themselves in terms of the groups they belong to and this sense of group can deeply affect their behavior. You can stimulate group identity just by the way you have people talk about themselves or the way you phrase a question. For example, research shows that if people say “I am a chocolate eater” versus “I eat chocolate a lot” it will affect how strong their preference is for chocolate. “Eater” is a noun. “Eat” is a verb.

When you are trying to get people to do stuff try using nouns rather than verbs. Invoke a sense of belonging to a group and it is much more likely that people will comply with your request.

What do you think? Have you tried nouns instead of verbs?

Top 10 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #4 – People "read" your body positions instantly and unconsciously

Woman with a tilted head
Tilting your head can be perceived as a sign of submission

Not too long ago I spoke at a conference with a line-up of great presenters. One man I had been looking forward to hearing got up to speak. He is well-known in his field, but I had never seen him speak. His talk was very good, but I couldn’t concentrate on it because throughout the entire talk he did a small movement over and over. He would step forward with one foot and then step back with the other, like a little dance, over and over. It was a form of fidgeting, and it was very distracting.

The research in psychology over the last 15 years makes it clear that people process information unconsciously and make very quick (1 second or less), unconscious decisions about other people.

People respond to your body language before you start talking —  The way you walk and stand, your facial expressions, and your eye contact (or lack of it) communicate whether you are nervous, confident, excited, and more. Decide what impression you want to convey, and then think about how your body language is conveying it.  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

Make sure that your walk to the front of the room shows confidence —  Stand up tall with good posture, take your time, don’t rush, don’t fidget with anything while you walk. Plant your feet firmly on each step. If you are the presenter, then you are the leader. Your audience wants a strong leader. If you walk confidently, your audience will be inspired to “follow you” into the presentation.

Before you begin to talk, “set” your body — Stop, face the audience, stand firmly with even weight on both feet, look at the audience, smile a little bit, take a deep breath, and then begin. It will seem like too much time has passed without talking, but it will not appear that way to the audience.

If you face people directly you convey authority and confidence — Standing at an angle says that you and the audience are collaborating.

Don’t have any barriers between you and the audience—don’t use a lectern, and move tables out of the way if possible. People need to see your body in order to trust you

Keep your head straight — When you are talking one-on-one with someone, tilting your head conveys that you are interested in them or what they are saying, but it can also be a sign of submission. Since you want to convey authority and confidence during your presentation, you should avoid tilting your head.

Stand with balanced weight — Standing firmly with your weight evenly balanced on both legs and your head straight says you are sure and confident. Putting weight on only one foot or leaning against something like a table, chair, or lectern undermines your confidence and authority.

Don’t fidget  Fidgeting takes many forms. Some people rattle keys in their pockets or tap their feet or fingers. Fidgeting conveys that you are nervous, bored, or impatient.

Video yourself, evaluate, and learn new habits — It’s not easy to change habits such as how you stand, move your head, or fidget. Video yourself presenting and then pick one thing to try and change. Work on it every time you present. Keep recording yourself. When you’ve mastered one of your unconscious movement habits, go on to a new one.

It takes work to change these automatic ways of standing and moving, but with persistence you can convey a more powerful and polished demeanor when you present. You can’t ignore that people react unconsciously. You’ve got to accept it and then work to portray the image and impression that will best get your message across.

What do you think? Have you been able to change some of your body language for the better?

Other books on this topic:

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Strangers to ourselves: The adaptive unconscious by Timothy Wilson

The Silent Language of Leaders: How body language can help or hurt how you lead by Carol Kinsey Goman.

 

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #45 — You Choose (And Vote For) The First One On The List

ballotIt’s almost election time here in the USA, and there are many hotly contested elections at local, state, and national levels. Who will you vote for? According to the research, you are likely to vote for the first person that appears on the ballot!

The order effect — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?, I write about the “order effect”. You go to a website to buy a tent for camping. You answer some questions about the type of camping you plan to do. The site then recommends four tents that best match your use, and compares the tents based on 10 attributes (how waterproof they are, how much they weigh, how much air ventilation they have, and so on). Two of the tents are “best buys” for the attributes that are important to you. Which tent will you buy?

Order effect at websites –– Felfernig (2007) set up a research study to find out. Even though there were 10 attributes that the tents were compared on, participants focused only on two or three attributes. The researchers varied the order in which the tents appeared on the page: first, second, third, or fourth. It turns out that the most important attribute was not whether the tent was waterproof or if it had plenty of air ventilation. The most important attribute was the order in which the tents appeared on the page! Participants disregarded attributes and simply picked whichever tent was the first one to show. People picked the first tent 2.5 times more than any other. They chose the first tent 200 times; they chose the other three tents (combined) only 60 times. This is an example of the order effect.

We rationalize the choice — The participants explained their choice, however, based on the logical decisions they thought they were making. For example, they explained the choice of tent #1 by saying, “This tent is the most waterproof.” They thought they were weighing all the attributes of all the tents, but in reality they were considering only a few attributes, and even those attributes didn’t matter. All that mattered was an unconscious reaction to which tent showed up first.

The first name on the ballot – According to research by Marc Meredith and Yuvall Salant, the same order effect influences who you vote for. In a wide range of elections, and with order randomized for different elections, Meredith and Salant found that in one out of every 10 elections, the first name on the ballot will win just because it’s first. They also calculated that being in the middle of the list lowers your chance of winning by 2.5 percentage points.

So which position candidate are you going to vote for!

Thanks to the blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree for drawing my attention to this research.

For more information on the Meredith and Sulant research: Kellogg Insight Focus On Research

For the tent research:

Felfernig, A., g. Friedrich, B. Gula, M. Hitz, T. Kruggel, G. Leitner, R. Melcher, D. Riepan, S. Strauss, E. Teppan, and O. Vitouch. 2007. Persuasive recommendation: Serial position effects in knowledge-based recommender systems. In Persuasive Technology, Second International Conference on Persuasive Technology. New York: Springer.

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #40 — "You're Easily Influenced, but I'm not"

Woman looking skeptical
Photo by Katie Ricard

I have been doing a lot of public speaking about my book and the ideas of persuasion. Early in my talks I often discuss John Bargh’s research on how much we are influenced by factors that we are not aware of. Bargh had people unscramble sets of words to make sentences, for example, he would ask people to choose 4 out of 5 words and make a sentence out of them:

he florida today lives now in

would become: “He now lives in Florida”.

Some people would get sets of words that had a theme of old: such as Florida, retired, old, elderly. Other people would get sets of words that had a young theme: such as youth, energy, lively.  A third group would get neutral words that were neither old nor young. After unscrambling the words and making sentences he would then have them walk down the hall to find him. Bargh measured how long it took each person to walk down the hall. People who had been using the “old” words, took much longer to walk down the hall. They had been unconsciously affected by the words. But when asked if they thought the words had influenced them they said no, and when I talk about this study I get the impression that most people in the audience believe that others would walk slowly, but that these words wouldn’t have affected them.

“I’m not that influenced” — In another example, I share in my talks about the power of social validation: how ratings and reviews at websites have a huge influence over what people decide to do (it’s because when we are uncertain we look to others to decide what to do). And everyone in the room nods and talks about how this is true, that other people are very influenced by ratings and reviews, but most people I am speaking to think that they themselves are not very affected. I talk about study after study on persuasion and how much we are affected by pictures, images, words, and that we don’t realize we are being influenced. And the reaction is always similar: “Yes, other people are affected by these things, but I am not.”

The third person effect — In fact, this belief that “others are affected but not me”, is so common that there is research on it, and it has its own name: the “third person effect”.  The research shows that most people think other people are influenced by persuasive messages, but that they themselves are not, and that this perception is false. The “third person effect” seems to be especially true if you think you aren’t interested in the topic. For example, if you are not in the market to buy a new TV, then you will tend to think that advertising about new TVs won’t affect you, but the research says that it will.

Why do we deceive ourselves this way? — So why the self-deception? It’s partly because all this influence is happening unconsciously. We literally aren’t aware that we are being influenced. And it’s also partly because we don’t like to think of ourselves as so easily swayed, or so “gullible”. To be gullible is to not be in control, and our old brain, the part of our brain that is concerned with survival, always wants us to be in control.

What do you think? Why do we believe that others are so easily influenced but not ourselves?

For those of you who like to read research:

Bargh, John A., Mark Chen, Lara Burrows. 1996. Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 71(2), 230-244.

Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, (2008), 1977-1992.

Bryant Paul; Michael B. Salwen; Michel Dupagne, The Third-Person Effect: A Meta-analysis of the perceptual hypothesis. Mass Communication and Society, 1532-7825, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2000, Pages 57 – 85

Perloff  Third-Person Effect Research 1983–1992: A Review and Synthesis.
Int J Public Opin Res.1993; 5: 167-184

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #29 – Brand Names Talk To Our "Old" Brains

You are planning on buying a new TV. Will you buy a brand you recognize? Or will you go for the unfamiliar “no name” brand that is less expensive? What if you are buying luggage?

Talking to the “old brain” — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I write about the “old brain”. This is the part of the brain that developed first from an evolution point of view (sometimes called the reptilian brain because it developed with reptiles). The old brain is continually scanning the environment and asking, “Can I eat it?”, “Will it kill me?”, “Can I have sex with it?”. Basically the old brain is interested in food, survival and sex. This pre-occupation with our well-being also makes the old brain sensitive to the idea of loss. The old brain is therefore more motivated by the fear of losing something than it is by the possibility of gain.

Brands activate “safety” — Brand names talk to the old brain because they activate the idea of safety. A brand name means that the item is not an unknown. And if the brand name is positive to you, then the brand name signals safety to the old brain. (If you have had a negative experience with the brand then it will be the opposite. I had a bad experience with Panasonic once many many years ago, and for over two decades I wouldn’t buy anything made by Panasonic. Recently I’ve reluctantly let go of that “ban”, but I still prefer not to buy Panasonic. I can’t even remember what the product was that upset me so much, but in my head Panasonic = maybe not reliable).

Brands are shortcuts — One of the things our old brains are really good at is making quick “blink” decisions. You can’t consciously process all the information that comes into your brain. The estimate is that 40,000,000 inputs come into your brain from your senses every SECOND. You can only process 40 of those consciously, so it is your unconscious that is processing most of that information, and it uses lots of shortcuts to make the processing go faster. Brands are a shortcut. A brand you have a positive and emotional experience with equals a signal to the old brain that this is safe.

Brands are even more powerful online — I’m currently analyzing some data I’ve collected on people making purchases online. (I’ll be sharing that data in another post shortly). The study I conducted has to do with customer reviews. But an interesting piece of information that emerged along the way was how important brand was to the purchasing decision. Some of the participants in the study were asked to shop for luggage online, and others were asked to shop for TVs. All the participants commented during the study about the brand, saying things like, “I don’t know. This one is a good price, but I’ve never heard of this brand”.  In the absence of being able to see and touch the actual product, the brand becomes the “surrogate” for the experience. This means that brands have even more power and sway when you are making an online purchase.

What has been your experience? Do you go for “name” brands more when you are shopping online?

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #25 — Trust Your Gut or Be Logical? It Depends On Your Mood

Picture of Woman Looking In Mirror
Photo Credit: Katie Ricard

In a previous post on how mood affects your reaction to brands you know (see You Are Most Affected By Brands And Logos When You Are Sad And Scared), I talked about the research from Marieke de Vries of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. De Vries also did research on two types of decision making: a trusting -your- gut intuitive method vs. following a logical, deliberative decision-making process of weighing alternatives and thinking through pros and cons. De Vries was interested in whether one method of decision-making was better than another, and also whether your mood affected the outcome of the decision.

When to use deliberative decision-making — Research by Dijksterhuis shows that when you have simple decision to make you make better decisions when you use a logical deliberative method.

When to use intuitive decision-making — Research by Shiv shows that when you have a complicated decision to make, you make better decisions when you use an intuitive or “gut” method.

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #25 — Trust Your Gut or Be Logical? It Depends On Your Mood”

10 Best Posts of 2009

It’s that time of year — so here is my list of the 10 best posts from my blog in 2009. I chose the 10 that I believe have had the greatest impact/most thought provoking/most interest from my readers.

#1: Dopamine Makes You Addicted to Seeking Information — I thought this was an interesting post when I wrote it, but it surprised me how quickly it took off virally; more than any other post I’ve written!

#2: Eyetracking — 7 Traps to Avoid — Another surprise to me how popular this post was.

#3: 7 Steps to Successful Web Site Redesign — I think Jacek Utko has an important view of the world.

#4: Your Attention is Riveted By Pictures of People — If people knew how important this is I think they’d change the pictures they put at their web site.

#5: Web Site User Experience Anatomy — Not one of my posts, but a guest post by Craig Tomlin, and an interesting way to think about web sites. Continue reading “10 Best Posts of 2009”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #20 — Your Attention Is Riveted By Pictures Of People

Picture of a baby looking right at the camera Second only to movement (animation, video), pictures of a human face capture attention in any medium, including websites. Pictures of a human face not only capture attention, but keep the attention on that part of the screen even when the picture goes away.

We start young — With some creative experiments it has been proven that babies as young as 4 months old will look at pictures of other people more than pictures of other objects or of animals. And this preference for faces continues throughout the life span. It seems to be part of our brain wiring.

The eyes have it — Research using eye tracking shows that when you show people a picture of the face of a person, their attention goes mostly to the eyes. If you want to capture someone’s attention at a website, showing a picture of a person who is looking right into the camera captures the most attention. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #20 — Your Attention Is Riveted By Pictures Of People”