100 Things You Should Know About People: #17 — Your Unconscious Knows 1st

You are shopping for a new computer and the salesperson you are talking to is offering you what seems to be a good deal. And yet there is a part of you that feels uncomfortable and isn’t sure if this is the right computer, or the right deal, or the right store for you. If you had to articulate why you felt uncomfortable you might not be able to say why, or you’d make up a reason, but that might not really be the reason. So what’s going on?

Your unconscious mind is faster than your conscious mind — One of my favorite pieces of research is the study by Bechara and Damasio. It’s a little complicated to explain, so a few months ago I put together a short video “re-enactment” to help describe the research. I have a summary below as well:

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100 Things You Should Know about People: #5 — You Make Most of Your Decisions Unconsciously

You are thinking of buying a TV. You do some research on what TV to buy and then you go online to purchase one. What factors are involved in this decision making process?

It’s not what you think — I cover this topic in my book Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? You like to think that when you make a decision you have carefully and logically weighed all the relevant factors. In the case of the TV, you have considered the size of TV that works best in your room, the brand that you have read is the most reliable, the competitive price, whether you should get blu-ray, etc etc. But the research on decision-making, especially the recent research, shows that although you want to think that your decision-making is a conscious, deliberate process, it’s not. Most decisions are made through unconscious mental processing.

Unconscious decision-making includes factors such as:

What are most other people buying (social validation): “I see that a particular TV got high ratings and reviews at the website”

What will make me stay consistent in my persona (commitment): “I’m the kind of person that always has the latest thing, the newest technology.”

Do I have any obligations or social debts that I can pay off with this purchase (reciprocity): “My brother has had me over to his house all year to watch the games, I think it’s time we had them over to our place to watch”

and on and on.

Don’t Confuse Unconscious with Irrational or Bad. I take exception with Dan Ariely and his book, Predictably Irrational. Most of our mental processing is unconscious, and most of our decision-making is unconscious, but that doesn’t mean it’s faulty, irrational or bad. We are faced with an overwhelming amount of data (11,000,000 pieces of data come into the brain every second!) and our conscious minds can’t process all of that. Our unconscious has evolved to process most of the data and to make decisions for us according to guidelines and rules of thumb that are in our best interest most of the time. This is the genesis of “trusting your gut”, and most of the time it works!

So What To Do? — The next step is to think about what this means for people who design things like websites, where you are providing information and/or engaging customers to make a decision. This is, of course, the topic of my book, but let’s hear from you. If we know that people are making decisions unconsciously, rather than consciously, what are some strategies we should employ at the website to encourage them to engage?

And for those of you who like to read, great books on this topic are:

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer — The BEST book on the topic of decision-making in general.

Strangers to Ourselves: The adaptive unconscious by Timothy Wilson — A little bit more academic, but still a great book.

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

and of course

Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?

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Irrational or Just Human?


A favorite theme these days when writing about the unconscious mind and decision making is about how bad we humans are at making decisions. A perfect example is Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.

Don’t get me wrong… it’s a great book, and I recommend that you read it BUT I take issue with one of the basic underlying and overt assumptions. The book explores human decision making, and describes (in an easy to read and entertaining way) some of the research on how people make decisions. I write in Neuro Web Design about all the myriad ways the unconscious mind guides, decides, affects the decisions we make. No disagreement there. But where we disagree is Ariely’s assumption that if we would all pay attention to how irrationally we are making decisions then we would see the light and start to change. He is saying that we can overcome our innate tendencies to be irrational and instead choose to make rational choices.

He’s missing the point. We aren’t actually irrational. We’re perfectly rational — according to the UNconscious mind. It’s an adaptive response (see Timothy Wilson’s book Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unonscious). And we can’t change. That’s like saying that people should stop seeing color. We can’t! It’s just the way we’re built. Our seemingly irrationality comes from the way the unconscious mind has learned to deal with the huge amounts of data that that logical conscious mind can’t begin to process in a quick manner.

I say we accept and embrace the unconscious mind and celebrate what it does for us rather than judging us as irrational. It’s not irrational. It’s being human.

Creative commons photo: http://www.flickr.com/people/christinasnyder/

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Thumbs Up: Credo mobile email hits 5 Persuasion hot buttons


I get plenty of marketing emails, and this one that came the other day really stood out. Credo Mobile… it’s a cell phone service provider that also promises political change! They use 5 different persuasion techniques, all on one page:
1. The word “Free” is very powerful and they use it several times
2. Scarcity — “Offer Expires…”
3. Association — They are a politically active company, and they talk about Barack Obama on the page… they are associating themselves with Obama… like Obama, then you will like them
4. Consistency — The message is: If you are someone who cares about being progressive, then you want to (be consistent) and use a progressive cell phone service provider.
5. Social Validation – -The bottom ofthe page has a customer testimonial, with a name and photo.

Good job hitting persuasion marks Credo!