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The Bigger Picture of Human Behaviour

This post will provide a detailed, bigger picture-view of the various factors that influences the brain, body, and therefore, ultimately behaviour. Once you understand all the factors that influence human behaviour, then you are more likely to more accurately predict behaviour. I have put human behaviour into two broad, all-encompassing categories.

Neuro Framework

Firstly, the influence of macro-behaviour on an individual’s behaviour. That is, cultures and groups. I will focus mainly on groups as the dominant influencer of the ‘2 to many’ category. Secondly, the behaviour of an individual, as described by 4 concepts in cognition, namely, perception, attention, decision-making and memory. These refer to the mental processes – thinking – needed to do things. Imagine walking into a shop to buy apple juice. Firstly, it would require you to interpret the information (perception) that you see as you scan the aisles for eggs. Then once you find them, you need to take control of your mind (attention) to determine that, what you see before you is, in fact, apple juice and not wine. You then need to decide if the apple juice that you see are the eggs you want. There are many factors that influence these decisions, including previous experiences, expectations, beliefs and social pressures. Lastly, after you have bought and enjoyed the apple juice, you will have a particular memory about your experience. What makes memory so interesting, is that every time a memory is recalled it changes its structure. And there is a vast difference between how we experience events and how we remember them. One more reason why an understanding of the mental processes involved in cognition’s application in marketing is so fundamentally important.

I believe that to understand an individual’s behaviour in full, all (or at least most) dominant factors that will affect behaviour, most importantly the macro-environment, needs to be taken into account because context changes behaviour. One of the best examples of how context can change our behaviour is mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. A violinist started playing in a subway station. After 4 minutes the violinist received his first dollar. At 45 minutes, the musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. The strangeness of the experiment is not that the violinist received hardly any attention, but the fact that this violinist was Joshua Bell, who the night before, played at a sold-out concert in a theatre where the ticket prices averaged $100. This social experiment also has implications for individual perception. How we interpret stimuli depends on the context in which it is presented.

“No man is an island”, John Donne wrote in a poem. No human is ever meant to exist in isolation. People’s decisions are influenced by social factors and social factors act upon us to influence our decisions. In a similar vein, the brain is influenced by the body just as the body is influenced by the brain, a concept known as embodied cognition. Understanding how every piece of the puzzle fits together will allow us to see the bigger picture from a distance for optimal health, wealth and happiness…

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Werner van Zyl
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