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Evolution of Personality: Environmental Variation


Evolution of Personality: Environmental Variation

In last week’s blog post, I addressed the evolutionary genetics of personality and the genetic contributions to variation in personality traits. In this post, I would like to examine a different phenomenon, namely how the same genes can lead to different non-random variation in personality. If we want to understand how traits work as motivations, we need to understand how they evolved. Let’s briefly review some very simple models of how variation can link to genetics. In one model, variation in personality is due simply to people having different combinations of genes: People with gene A tend to be extroverts, while people with gene B tend to be introverts. This kind of model could represent what biologists call an obligate adaptation (a gene causes a trait in a fixed manner). However, people with the same genes may develop very different personalities if they are put in the same environment, through what is referred to as facultative adaptations (genes create mechanisms which develop in different ways in different environments, or different genes are turned on in different environments). Facultative adaptations are like “if-then” rules, as everyone tends to have the same genes; but if they develop in one environment, they create one characteristic (say, extraversion), and if they develop in another environment, they lead to another characteristic (say, introversion).

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How Psychological Traits Drive Buying Decisions

How Psychological Traits Drive Buying Decisions

In last week’s blog post, I argued that personality traits can be conceived of as “chronic motivations”, and that such a conceptualization shows how they can be used to uncover the true motivations behind consumer behavior. This week I’m going to expand upon this theme by arguing that there are, at least, two general pathways for such motivations to be realized, and make some suggestions on how to tell the two apart.

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Focus Groups: Why People Behave Differently When They Are Being Watched

Imagine you have been tasked with increasing revenue for an “honor system” coffee donation in your office. A collection box has been placed next to the shiny new caffeine machine and everyone is told to donate at least 50 cents whenever they help themselves, and more if they feel inclined. While this may seem impossible (who’s going to pay more if they don’t have to?!) there’s a tried and true way of ensuring consistent payment without hiring a barista: stick subtle eyespots (images of eyes, or eye shaped designs) on the machine. In an elegant study by Bateson et. al. 2006, this potentially silly-sounding method led people to donate three times more to the pot than their coworkers who were exposed to a coffee machine without the eyespots. This study fits into a growing body of research trying to unravel exactly what effects implicit cues have on behavior. An implicit cue is simply something we are not aware of which can then have an effect on behavior (the output). For instance, the eyespots in the above example were an implicit cue which made the subjects feel as though they were being watched, thereby altering their behavior, leading them to act in a more altruistic manner. When marketing research firms conduct focus groups, dozens of implicit cues (for example. the neighborhood the site is in, the furniture in the room, how the other participants are dressed, etc.) may affect people’s behavior and responses. While many of these can be controlled, research suggests that the “feeling of being watched” can have far-reaching effects that bias the results of the focus group.

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Brand Affinity and Beer: Identifying with your Customers


Brand Affinity and Beer: Identifying with your Customers

Marketers are tasked with capturing the hearts of consumers in order to create loyal customers. One effective way to do this is leveraging brand affinity through self-identification, in other words, identifying your brand with qualities your current and potential customers strongly relate to. This method can be extremely powerful as long as brands are able to accurately idenfity with their customers. 

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Why Personality Matters for Marketers

Why Personality Matters for Marketers 

“The key traits that we strive to display [through consumerism] are the stable traits that differ most between individuals and that most strongly predict our social abilities and preferences...displaying such traits is the key ‘latent motive’ that marketers strive to comprehend,” TipTap advisor Geoffrey Miller, Spent, p.15.

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The Confabulator: What it is and Why CMOs Should Care

The Confabulator: What it is and Why CMOs Should Care

According to CASRO, $8.6 billion are spent each year in the United States on consumer marketing research using online or phone-based surveys that rely on explicit reports (what people say they want). One of many challenges marketers face in this area is understanding what people are truly interested in, parsing through the noise of what people say they want and getting at the signal of what people actually want. Years of psychological research provide insight into why these explicit reports tap into only a small percentage of what goes into a consumer's decision-making process.

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