Psychologists Agree: Life is ACTUALLY Like Riding a Bicycle
When you first learn to ride a bike or drive a car, you must expend an absorbent amount of conscious effort to stay in control. You feel uneasy about your new behavior, you are vigilant and conscious of everything going on. It’s a very foreign behavior and because of this the brain is experiencing each and every bump and readjustment as a new experience. But then after a bit of riding, as if the brain has suddenly found the right program to run, you are off riding around with relative ease. The conscious effort to balance, grip the handlebar, remember where the brakes are, exert the right amount of pressure with each foot on the pedal, and even keep your eyes on the front tire and road all seem to fade away out of awareness. You just experienced the transformation of a conscious process into an automatic nonconscious process.
So, what’s going on in your brain?
There are 100 billion neurons in our brains that can form more potential connections than there are stars in the galaxy. However, only a very small fraction of those connections are available to carry out the conscious processes that we need at any given time, new or novel processes that constitute our awareness like reading a new email, having a new conversation, thinking about a new problem. The portion of our brain dedicated to our conscious awareness is very valuable commodity because it allows us to focus learn new things, handle new situations and concentrate on what’s in front of us. Because conscious neural pathways are in such short supply, our brain is constantly working to optimize efficiency, to minimize congestion and in real time make the implicit decision of which processes to give conscious resources to (awareness) and which processes to allow to proceed in a nonconscious fashion (implicit/unaware).
The processes that are pushed outside of our awareness are selectively chosen based on both the availability of consciousness, as well as the particular processes needed for conscious monitoring. A neural process that has functioned and proceeded numerous times prior, like riding a bike or reading a book, becomes nonconscious (or implicit) over time in a cognitive process known as automaticity. Automaticity is the result of the the brain trying to effectively allocate all of its precious cognitive resources.
As a result of this shift of consciousness, we no longer think about every interaction. For example, accustomed automobile drivers on long trips sometimes experience “Driving Without Attention Mode (DWAM)”, “White Line Fever” or “Highway Hypnosis”, in which portions of the drive are controlled almost exclusively by the driver’s nonconscious, outside of conscious awareness. As a result of the largely automatic nature of the experience, the driver can’t remember parts of the drive or stimuli he responded to along the way
Automaticity of Consumer Behavior
In addition to driving a car, there is evidence for the nonconscious processing of attitudes, preferences, and social decision making, such as a consumer behavior (Bargh, 1989). Shopping is a perfect example. We are often bombarded with endless distractions: running into someone we know, talking on our cellular phones, announcements regarding sales, music playing through the store PA, thoughts regarding what we need to do when we get home, what we did or didn’t do at work, as well as particular items we are seeking out within the store to purchase.
As we meander up and down the aisle we tend to concentrate on the few items we have chosen to consciously seek out, while in search of these items hundreds of other products make their way into our visual periphery and we find ourselves grabbing and dropping. At this point our consumption has entered into an autopilot-like state. We might for example find ourselves walking down an aisle and picking up a product as though we “just happen to see it”, however this may not be as random as we perceived it to be. In reality, a trigger has activated an implicit goal and we nonconsciously sought out this product. When asked about such purchases we will explain it as though consciously experienced, “I just happened to come across it, so I bought it”. The purchasing decision is however much less arbitrary than we consciously think it to be. But because we don’t have conscious access to the real motivations driving our purchase, the brain’s Confabulator, or press secretary, will create a false, yet “likely” reasoning for our actions.
If Automaticity is Nonconscious and Unreportable, How Can it Help Marketers?
With an understanding of the Confabulator, explicitly asking consumers to report their reasons for buying a product fail to expose the underlying truth. The majority of consumer decisions occur outside of our awareness and consumers do not have access to this information. The problem is exacerbated by the fact some consumers will choose not to tell you what they think to be the truth.
Understanding a consumer’s true motivation is an invaluable asset. Knowledge of the motivation lends itself to being able to both appeal to a consumer’s preferences in a highly effective manner as well as successfully trigger the goal for the consumer to purchase the product. Research has demonstrated that these implicitly active goals will fail to satiate until they have been fulfilled. Furthermore, not only does this then allow for marketers to optimize their messaging, packaging, and even product functionality, but also for the company to create a deep and personalized connection with the customer, leading to what every company strives for, customer loyalty.