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Even Your Most Basic Behaviour Will Surprise You

We all like to believe that we know what happened or that we are sure of what is going to happen, but I am, like you, mostly wrong. For the brain to make sense of the world, it creates and uses various models that causes certain outcomes. But here is the catch: you are only aware of the outcomes of what you brain is doing and not of all the processes it made use of to get there. More than a decade ago an experiment was devised to prove this. Below is an excerpt from Chris Frith’s book Making Up The Mind:

….the target was a box that moved around on the computer
screen. People followed the target by moving a joystick that controlled
the position of a pointer in the screen. I could measure the exact
position of a person’s hand every few milliseconds.
And do people know where their hand actually is? I could have asked
this question, but the experiment was actually done many years later by
Pierre Fourneret in Marc Jeannerod’s lab in Lyons. People were asked to
draw a vertical line on the computer screen by moving their hand forward.
But they couldn’t see their hand, only the line they were making
on the screen. The ingenious part of this experiment was the distortion
that could be created by the computer. Sometimes moving your hand
straightforward would not produce a vertical line on the screen, but one
that deviated to the side. When this happens it is very easy to modify
your hand movement (by deviating to the other side) so that you still
draw a vertical line on the screen. Indeed this is so easy that, unless the
distortion is very great, you don’t even know that you’re making this
deviant movement”.

Supplementary to this experiment, Malcolm Gladwell also mentions in his book Blink that people think they know how they hit a tennis ball, but that they, in actual fact, have no clue about how they actually hit the ball (apparently, the experimenters had a ball figuring this out).


Marketing Implications

This evidence confirms that much of what we are doing is unconscious*. It is probably for this reason that Steve Jobs never believed in market research (his thinking was that it is not the jobs (pun intended) of the customer to tell him what products to produce and sell). He was once quoted as saying that “Customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.

“Customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them”
I wholeheartedly agree with Jobs. Many forms of customer survey (such as questionnaires and interviews) are not as reliable as we would like to think, because even though customers are often aware of their preferences, they cannot explain it. ** It is for this reason that I am a very big proponent of Empathic design, which uses observations rather than dull, ambiguous questionnaires to monitor how people treat products and how they use it in order to identify latent consumer needs. What is more, is that consumers often engage in what is known as compensatory behaviour. When you open a washing machine you might not notice (i.e. it is unconscious behaviour) that you are leaning over a washing machine when video footage clearly shows otherwise. I believe empathic design to be the research method of the future precisely because of largely unconscious behaviour on the customer’s side. Tapping people’s unconscious behaviour makes it easier to sell to customers; being aware of unconscious behaviour makes it easier to resist (unconscious) temptations.


*Gerald Zaltman – How Customers Think & A.K. Pradeep – The Buying Brain
** How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Further Reading:  Robert Burton: On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not

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Werner van Zyl
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