The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #104 — Shopping, Dopamine, & Anticipation

Picture of shirts on hangarsLet’s say that you’re the CEO of a large retail clothing brand. You have stores throughout the world, and you have a website. People buy shirts, pants, skirts, belts, and so on at your stores and at your site.

If you want people to enjoy the shopping process with your brand, and to be excited about buying your products, what should you do?

Let’s say your answer is: “I’m going to make shopping in the stores the best shopping experience possible. We’ll have in-store events, models wearing the clothes in the stores, and exciting sales. We’ll stock the stores with all colors and sizes, so people can be sure that when they come in, we’ll have what they want. I know that we have the online stores too, but if I am going to spend time and energy on one or the other, I’ll spend it making the in-store experience the best it can be.”

Good answer? Actually, no.

Excitement and anticipation — Robert Sapolsky is a neuroscientist who studies dopamine in the brain. He trained monkeys to know that when a light comes on that is a signal. The monkeys knew that if they pressed a button ten times, AFTER the signal (after the light comes on), then on the tenth button press, a food treat would appear.

Sapolsky measured the amount and timing of dopamine release in the monkeys’ brains during the cycle of signal—work (pressing the button)—reward (food treat). The monkeys received the treat as soon as they pressed the bar ten times. Surprisingly, the dopamine release started as soon as the signal arrived, and ended at the end of the bar pressing.

 

Chart showing dopamine release for monkeys pressing a bar to receive a food treat.

 

Many people think that dopamine is released when the brain receives a reward, but dopamine is actually released in anticipation of a reward. It’s the dopamine that keeps the monkey pressing the bar until the treat arrives.

In a second experiment the monkeys received the food treat only 50 percent of the time after they pressed the bar. What happened to the dopamine in that situation? Twice as much dopamine was released when there was only a 50/50 chance of getting the food treat.

chart showing that twice as much dopamine is released if the reward is only given half the time

 

It’s all about unpredictability and anticipation — In the third and fourth experiments, Sapolsky gave the treat 25 percent of the time or 75 percent of the time. Interestingly, when the treat was given either 25 percent of the time or 75 percent of the time, the dopamine release was the same, and it was halfway between the 100 percent and 50 percent chance of getting a food treat.

Figure67.3

Unpredictability increases anticipation — When the monkeys got the treat all the time, a fair amount of dopamine was released during the pressing phase. When getting the treat was unpredictable, the amount of dopamine went up.In the 25 and 75 percent situations, there was actually more predictability. If the monkey got a food treat 25 percent of the time, it meant that they mostly didn’t get one. If they got a food treat 75 percent of the time, it meant that they mostly got one. Getting the food treat 50 percent of the time was the least predictable situation.

What’s this got to do with online shopping? — Ok, I realize that most of us are not monkeys. But our brains work a lot like monkeys. We react to anticipation and dopamine the same way. When you place an order for a product online, you don’t get the product right away. You have to wait. And in the waiting is anticipation.

In the report entitled Digital Dopamine, Razorfish presented results from interviews and surveys of 1,680 shoppers from the US, UK, Brazil, and China in 2014. From the report: “Seventy-six percent of people in the US, 72 percent in the UK, 73 percent in Brazil, and 82 percent in China say they are more excited when their online purchases arrive in the mail than when they buy things in store.”

The bottom line — Online shopping can be as exciting or more exciting as in-store shopping. Build in that anticipation.

For more info: — Sapolsky talks on video about the dopamine—anticipation research at http://www.wired.com/2011/07/sapolsky-on-dopamine-not-about-pleasure-but-its-anticipation/.

Razorfish Report: Digital Dopamine (http://www.razorfish.com/ideas/digital-dopamine.htm)

This topic is one of the 100 Things in my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 

 

 

Are You Addicted To Texting?

One of my early blog posts was about dopamine, and since then our smartphones have become even more capable of triggering a “dopamine loop.” So I thought I would re-visit the topic. Especially because I just did an animated video on the topic for the Brain Signal youtube channel:

It’s all about dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is found all through our body. In our brains dopamine is involved in a lot of our behavior, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward.

Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. Researchers used to think that dopamine was the “pleasure” chemical. But Kent Berridge’s work at the University of Michigan distinguishes between dopamine, the “wanting” system, and the opioid system as the “liking” system. The wanting system propels us to action and the liking system makes us feel satisfied, so we pause our seeking. The wanting system is stronger than the liking system. We seek more than we are satisfied.

Dopamine induces a loop — it starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. Which is what I think happens when we respond to texts, or emails. The result is that we can’t stop looking at email, texting, or checking our cell phones to see if we have a message or a new text.

The theoroy of classical conditioning in psychology tells us that we can become conditioned to respond to auditory or visual cues that a reward has, or is going to, arrive. Our smartphones beep and flash and show little icons when we have messages or texts, all adding to the addictive effect. Between classical conditioning and dopamine it can feel like you are addicted!

What do you think? Do you have a hard time not checking your phone when you hear that special tone?

100 Things You Should Know About People: #74 — Listening To Music Releases Dopamine In The Brain

 

Woman listening to music on headphones

Have you ever been listening to a piece of music and experienced intense pleasure, even chills? Valorie Salimpoor and team (2010) conducted research that shows that listening to music can release the neurotransmitter dopamine.

A wide range of music — The researchers used PET (positron emission tomography) scans, fMRI, and psychophysiological measures such as heart rate to measure reactions while people listened to music. The participants provided music that they said gave them intense pleasure and chills. The range of music varied, from classical, folk, jazz, elecronica, rock pop, tango, and more.

Pleasure vs. anticipated pleasure — The researchers saw the same pattern of brain and body activity when people were listening to their music as they see when people feel euphoria and craving when they get a reward. The experience of pleasure corresponded with dopamine release in one part of the brain (striatal dopaminergic system). When people were anticipating a pleasurable part of the music (participants were listening to their favorite music, so they knew what part of the music was coming next), then there was a dopamine release in a different part of the brain (nucleus accumbens).

Somewhat related is the very interesting TED talk by Benjamin Zander on Music and Passion.

What do you think? Do you get “chills” listening to music? Do you think the anticipation is as good as, or better than the experience?

And if you like to read the research:

Salimpoor, Valorie, N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience.

 

 

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: #8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information

iphone with text message
Does the unpredictability of a text message trigger dopamine release?

Do you ever feel like you are addicted to email or twitter or texting? Do you find it impossible to ignore your email if you see that there are messages in your inbox? Have you ever gone to Google to look up some information and 30 minutes later you realize that you’ve been reading and linking, and searching around for a long time, and you are now searching for something totally different than before? These are all examples of your dopamine system at work.

Enter dopamine — Neuro scientists have been studying what they call the dopamine system for a while. Dopamine was “discovered” in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden. Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, and motivation, seeking and reward.

The myth — You may have heard that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain: that dopamine makes you feel enjoyment, pleasure, and therefore motivates you to seek out certain behaviors, such as food, sex, and drugs.

It’s all about seeking — The latest research, though is changing this view. Instead of dopamine causing us to experience pleasure, the latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases our general level of arousal and our goal-directed behavior. (From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps us motivated to move through our world, learn, and survive). It’s not just about physical needs such as food, or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes us curious about ideas and fuels our searching for information. The latest research shows that it is the opioid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information”