Principles That Influence Human Behaviour

And other thoughts on perception

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Analysing human behaviour is more truth revealing than asking people what they think about certain products. Human behaviour can tell you more about a person then a book written about that person. Learning how we act in different environments can help us adapt our products or services for better behaviour. Here are a couple of examples that influence us and we don’t even realise about that.

A man might hesitate spending €95 for a sweater, but if he has just bought a €495 suit, a €95 sweater does not seem excessive. I caught myself once on the stupid mistake of buying a €10 pair of socks after buying a suit for a wedding. Meanwhile, you could purchase 5 pairs for €5 in H&M.

The same principle applies to a person who wishes to buy accessories that go along with the suit. This is a contrast principle that influences our behaviour. You motivate the customer to buy an expensive an item and then the smaller ones seem like a bargain.

Or same applies to presenting the most expensive thing first then showing the cheap version (price anchoring) which will motivate you to buy the second item. Or as sales motivation analysts Whitney, Hubin and Murphy state:

Even when a man enters a clothing store with the express purpose of purchasing a suit, he will almost always pay more for whatever accessories he buys if he buys them after the suit purchase than before.

Usually, inconsistency is considered an undesirable trait. Being inconsistent seems to be irrational and sometimes even crazy. But the principle is so ingrained in our subconscious that sometimes we don’t observe how others may use it to our disadvantage.

Let’s say you would like to increase the amount of donations in your area to a cancer research organisation. Psychologist Steven J. Sherman, has an interesting approach for you. He called a sample of Bloomington, Indiana, residents as a part of a survey he was taking and asked them to “predict” how many of them would donate for the American Cancer Society. Many of them said they would.

The result? 700% increase in volunteers when, a few days later, a representative of the American Cancer Society did call and ask for donations. The same principle is often applied in presidential elections.

This is also why people prefer to buy all the products from a specific brand only. For example, a person with a Samsung phone is more likely to buy a watch or laptop from Samsung if he/she already has a product from them. But, this happens only if the person was satisfied with the initial purchase.

Let’s say you go to a small supermarket which specializes in “go-to” items. One in which you can buy only the necessary products with small amount of choice and have fast or self-checkout lanes. And you want to buy a jam but you are also in a rush. In that context, showing a person 27 types of jams is only going to confuse and frustrate him. And will indulge that person to grab something and leave the store, because time is precious to him. Or as otherwise known, the cognitive bias of choice overload.

Choice overload is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options.

In that case, the best approach would be to show only one or two types of jam. Why not more? Because the context is — a small supermarket with only basic products.

On the other hand, if that person drives to a market called The Jam World, with manufacturers coming all over the world presenting hundreds of different products, he won’t complain about the choice overload. He would rather enjoy the process of going to all manufacturers and taste which one is better. And then make a choice. Context is more important than content.

In many cases, people put themselves into auto mode. In which they are not actively paying attention to what they are doing. It’s a normal process of our brains to save energy and mental effort. For example, people may eat indefinite amount of food without even noticing.

Brian Wansink (2006) ran an experiment where people sat down to a large bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup. They were told to eat as much as they wanted. Participants did not know that the soup was never ending (the plates had empty bottoms connect to machinery beneath the table that poured in soup back). No matter how much they ate, the bowl never emptied. Many people kept eating until the experiment was done and he told them to stop.

Large plates and packages means more food consumption. These are a form of choice architecture that can dramatically improve or worsen someone’s life. That’s where a nudge can help create good habits.

Hans Rosling writes about the problem of generalising data in Factfullness. He gave an example how during the Second World War and the Korean War, doctors and nurses discovered that unconscious wounded soldiers from the battlefields survived more often if they were laid on their fronts rather than on their backs. On their backs, they often suffocated on their own vomit. This observation saved many millions of lives, not just soldiers. The recovery position has since become a global best practice.

Often a new discovery can be easily generalised too far. In the 1960s the success of the recovery position inspired public health advice to put babies to sleep on their tummies. The problem of generalisation like this is often difficult to spot. But the logic seems correct.

And sometimes it becomes hard to spot the flaws of such an approach. Even though the data showed that sudden infant deaths went up, not down. It wasn’t until 1985 that a group of paediatricians in Hong Kong suggested that the prone position might be the cause.

We all heard that earning a lot of money won’t bring you happiness. And that’s right, because in the end it’s not about money, but what is the “price” of your happiness. Some may enjoy reading a book on a remote island with no clothes on, other walking through rain, or others get a way of joy when running through a park.

But let’s take a different example — football players. We all know that on average they tend to earn a lot. And you may be a successful football player, that earns around one million euros a year, and gets 100k per week from advertising deals. You might drive a Lamborghini Aventador back to your mansion after a long day of training, and with all that lUXury, the most enjoyable thing you can do after a hard day is play Grand Theft Auto V — something you can buy for $30. Same pleasure that can be bought by almost anyone. Perception is everything.

You can read and learn more on the subject from my previous stories:

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