We all know the weather outside can tremendously impact our daily outlook on life, but what role does it play in our buying behavior and work habits? We associate sunshine with happiness and stormy weather with bad moods and misfortune. Indeed, there is no dearth of research supporting the fact that the forecast can significantly influence individuals’ mood and temperament. For example, increased sunshine is associated with better moods and an increased willingness to help others, and there is a mood disorder -- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) -- characterized by depressive symptoms brought on by the winter months. It’s pretty much common sense in today’s day and age that nice weather makes us happy, but can it actually affect our daily behavior? The answer, it turns out, is yes, and researchers are working to figure out exactly how and why.
Nonconscious Motivations Research
What is Priming? A Psychological Look at Priming & Consumer Behavior
As you’ve probably realized, various tenets of psychology are crucial to effective marketing. After all, psychology is about understanding human behavior and marketing is about applying that knowledge. There are many factors that influence this behavior, and while at least part of the human decision-making process is conscious, many of these factors influence behavior at a nonconscious level. As we have discussed previously on this blog, personality traits can serve as nonconscious motivations of behavior. In this post, I will introduce the psychological concept of priming, which can also have not-so-subtle influences on human behavior.
What is psychometrics?
We’re all aware that individuals are unique and not everyone likes the same things. This uniqueness comes directly into play in the field of marketing. Since no two people are identical, marketing is about grouping and targeting. That is, higher levels of marketing success arise if you know who to target and how to target them instead of targeting everyone with a generic message. This necessity for specificity means targeting is essentially an empirical question that requires some form of measurement. Consumer behavior is ultimately a result of psychological processes and thus is an optimal target for measurement. Many people don’t think of individual or group characteristics as quantifiable entities, but they can be. Indeed, once you develop a method of quantification, objective grouping based on numbers becomes much easier and more reliable than subjective grouping based on descriptions of consumer traits. Clearly not all measurement is good measurement, so then the question becomes: “How should this measurement be done?” This is where psychometrics comes in.
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).
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.
Personality Traits as Chronic Motivations Get Around the Confabulator
The object of study of personality psychology is primarily traits--patterns of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral differences that tend to be stable over the lifespan and across situations, and that differ between individuals. One can conceptualize personality traits as chronic motivations, motivations that a person tends to have across their lifespan and across different situations. Conceptualizing personality traits as chronic motivations offers a novel way to study consumer decision-making and behavior.
The Subjectivity of Focus Groups and Ink Blot Tests
Companies need to understand how people see their products and what they want, so asking customers about this in a focus group seems like a great idea. Focus groups can provide a valuable form of qualitative research, giving companies insight into consumers’ beliefs, desires, and attitudes surrounding a product. However, while focus groups can provide some insight, the history of projective tests (aka ink blot tests) in psychology offer a cautionary tale on solely relying on this kind of self-reported qualitative data.
Beginning in the early 20th century psychologists and psychiatrists developed projective tests to diagnose mental disorders and gain access to patients’ unconscious beliefs and desires. These tests, based on Freud’s theory of projection, were thought to allow unconscious beliefs and desires to surface through their open-ended structure, which was believed to be less threatening to people. In a projective test, someone is shown a set of ambiguous or abstract images that can be interpreted in many ways (the most famous example is the Rorschach ink blots, commonly portrayed in psychological examinations in movies), and they are asked to talk about what they see and what the images make them think of. It was believed that people will project their subconscious thoughts (desires, beliefs, etc.) onto the image, thereby revealing hidden parts of their personality that could then be analyzed and interpreted by the psychiatrist administering the test.
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.