The last post of mine was on emotions and how mostly we act on their behest without even realizing it. You enter a departmental store and want to just look around. You don’t need to actually buy anything, it’s just that you were waiting for your spouse and thought of checking out some latest stuff and enjoy a bit of window shopping. As you move from one aisle to another, you start getting interested in some of the stuff showcased there. Now instead of just looking at that new dress, you also touch it and try to feel how the fabric is and how the colours look like. Within no time, you find yourself in the changing room trying out some of the dresses you have just seen. You think of just trying out without even thinking of buying it, because you actually don’t need it. However, the Sales Assistant tells you about the limited period discount on the product you have just tried. You look at it again and decide you don’t need and put it back. The sales assistant glances at you while putting it back on the rack from where you had pulled it out. After a while you turn back to the assistant and want to know about other colour option in that dresses as you want to check out how it would look like in other colours without any intention of buying it, of course. Now, the sales assistant comes closer, shows you all the options available while talking about the latest offers and various colours in which the product you have chosen is available in. He also helps you by holding it for you, while you try on things that you have shortlisted and by the time you come out of the store, you don’t even realize you have bought not one but 5 dresses for different occasions, occasions which are not even sure to happen but you decide not to take any chances.
Now, why did you behave the way you did? Was it because you really needed those dresses? Or was it because the sales assistant was very smart? Or was it because you got a big bonus that month and wanted to splurge a bit? Possibly, none of it. Now, if I were to tell you that you are right, it was not because of any of the above mentioned reasons, rather it was primarily because of the music and the fragrance in the store, will I get your agreement? What? Music and fragrance, no way, how could this be? I am smart enough to be fooled by music and fragrances.
A lot of us won’t even consider the fact that fragrances and music could affect our shopping behaviour. But, Why? Because we can’t accept the fact that our own ‘wise’ decisions are based on such feeble premises that we can’t rationally defend or argue. We always have a very high opinion of our choices and the reasons behind those choices, thus if we were to be told that the actual reason for a decision that we took was let’s say music or fragrance, would you be able to defend it in front of your social group or your spouse? Probably not, and then we would need to concoct a more viable and a socially acceptable argument for our decisions (which are ‘mostly’ irrational).
Now this is not something that you believe because I am saying this, rather you should believe it because there is a whole body of research dedicated to finding reasons behind our so called rational decision making. Economists exhort us and believe we make decisions based on maximum utility, which if we were to follow would have turned us into cold blooded rationalists with little interest in each other’s universal good and engaged in any activity motivated by selfish interests and designs. I am not trying to imply here that all our decisions are based on emotions or feelings, but a huge number of them, definitely are without us even realizing it, which makes it all the more intriguing. Since we have been doing it for such a long time (taking irrational emotional decisions), we have also romanticised them by naming these decisions in an intellectual way, like we call it intuitive or instinctive decisions as they have primarily been made, not with rationality which require much lengthy thought process (reflection) but an immediate discovery of a yes or a no primarily influenced by an organ in our brain (one of the most primitive) called amygdala.
Amygdala is the prime culprit behind these impulsive decisions, like, to shop at the store when we actually wanted to save and also behind our, saying a yes (even no sometimes) to a proposal by that cute girl/boy in the class when we didn’t even know them and would normally take time to decide on how we would want to respond to it. So, when we get emotional we start reacting to things, situations, people or for that matter anything instead of responding. Here, it is very critical to understand the difference between reacting and responding while appreciating the fact that being reactive was also, quite critical to our survival which is why we still have a strong urge to react rather than to respond. When faced with a difficult situation, our primitive brain (brain stem/cerebellum or the hindbrain – I am using the terms loosely over here without scientific rigour) has a natural reaction to it which is – fight or flight (run). Since we can’t run we use our verbal weaponry to fight on our behalf and let loose a volley of abuse or at times gestures/tones and sounds to scare away the other person. If we dig a little deeper we would uncover that this organ has been the one to facilitate our survival through tough times in the caves and in the open grasslands when were vulnerable to the nature’s fury. In order to survive we had to decide quickly, stay in a group and care for each other to live longer and to run as fast as possible either to catch food or to save ourselves from a predator. Those same instincts are still very much active in our brain and even though we may not be in a life threatening situation now compared to our evolutionary times, they still control most of our basic bodily functions resulting in decisions that we at times regret as an afterthought. Well, it come so naturally to all of us that we just engage in fight or flight behaviour without even realizing what we are up to or what we have done. We realize it later, and then at times we regret it and at times try to come up with novel ways to establish it as a rational and an analytical choice. (Just to satisfy our ego though)
Coming back to reacting and responding, how should we respond? Responding would force you to mull over things rather than take an immediate action. When faced with a situation which requires immediate decision, the suggestion would be rather to delay as that will put you in a much better situation to make a better decision. Most of the marketing strategies appeal to our amygdala pushing us to make impulsive decision/s (which we regret later and at times convince ourselves and then others, thinking if I did that it should be the right and wise thing to do). Giving ourselves some time before an important decision, in fact, sleeping over it once would open up a lot many new possibilities, letting us to make much wiser decisions. A smart decision maker would likely, never replace his still working washing machine or a still working mobile phone for a new washing machine or a new mobile phone which is not only expensive but also serves the same utility as the product he/she already owns. Now this is exactly what companies manufacturing these products don’t want, so, if we sleep over it, go back home and think why do we need to buy (ask questions to ourselves) than we would be using totally different faculties of our brain in addition to amygdala and brain stem, called pre-frontal cortex which is the newest area of our brain responsible (majorly) for our intellectual capability and defer that decision to buy a new product. This would definitely lead to loss for the manufacturers of these products and thus instead of using rational reasons to buy a product they would employ emotional tactics to increase their sales, stimulating that part of our brain susceptible to impulsive decision making, leading us to buy something which we really don’t need. When we ask ourselves questions and weigh various alternatives’ we begin using that part of our brain which is actually responsible for our higher order thinking. So, instead of taking a quick decision there, hang on a little bit more and think over it before you put the signature on that paper.
Use of music and fragrances also lead to stimulation of our senses directly related to emotions, as these were the principal filters we applied while choosing our mate during our evolutionary times, music as a form of bonding (family/community) and odour to establish the fertility and vitality of the mate. Activating our emotional brain faculties using these stimulants allows various companies to influence us without us even knowing that we are being baited to buy their products. It’s a very subtle way of convincing customers and they can do it because they know how vulnerable we are to our emotions.
Now, I am not trying to convince anyone on the futility of using our emotions, but would rather advise you to become more self-aware of your actions in order to take a better decision which is not entirely instinctive but involves usage of rationality too.
Now, you might have read or probably know that you should never go to a mall or a super store on an empty stomach, not because it’s bad for your health, but rather because it is also really bad for your financial health. Why? Well that’s something we can probably discuss next time.
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