Changing Minds by Appealing to The Senses

Studies show atmospherics influence human attitudes. That suggests marketers and public policy advocates should consider making customers and constituents comfortable before making their pitches.

Studies show atmospherics influence human attitudes. That suggests marketers and public policy advocates should consider making customers and constituents comfortable before making their pitches.

Does the brain run the body or the body run the brain? The answer can be a huge clue on how to influence human behavior. 

The brain processes information generated by the body and sends messages to all parts of the body. We tend to think the brain is the center of human intelligence, the source of creativity and the home for emotions – sort of an organic computer. So, if the brain functions like a computer, does the principle of “garbage-in, garbage-out” apply?

Parts of the body interact directly with the outside world. We see through our eyes, hear through our ears, taste with our mouth, smell through our nose and touch with our skin. How much does the outside world influence what we “think” because of the signals our bodies send to our brains?

Another way to think about this conundrum is to ask why a dog wags its tail, which is part of the canine neurological network. Tail-wagging occurs when a dog sees its favorite person, smells a familiar scent and senses it is dinner time when a pet parent reaches into the bin of kibble. Is the dog brain wagging the tail or are the messages the dog body is sending to the dog brain causing the wagging?

Very likely, the interactivity of the brain and body is so complete and accomplished, there really isn’t a “boss.” The brain is more like the chief of intelligence for a large, sophisticated organization.

Yet, the answer to the question of brain over body or body over brain can still matter, even if the difference is small and incidental.

Research conducted in 2012 and published in Psychological Science suggests outside influences have an effect on perception and creativity. In one finding, people who held a warm cup of coffee tended to rate the personalities of strangers they met as “warmer” than did people without warm coffee cups.

In a more extended study, students positioned inside a large box were less creative, as measured by “out-of-the-box” ideas, than students working on the same assignment while sitting just outside the box.

In a related experiment, students were deemed more creative when allowed to walk wherever they wanted while doing the assignment as opposed to students required to follow a fixed route.

Even though these studies aren’t conclusive, they suggest atmospherics affect thinking.

The concept, called “embodied cognition perspective,” should cause policymakers and marketers to pause and consider what factors are more conducive to the results they seek. 

It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to know someone is likely to order a cold beer when sitting at a pool on a hot day. What does require some “cognition” is thinking about how an environment can enhance an outcome by having the body send positive messages that influence the brain.

There is a good reason why furniture stores organize what they sell by rooms so would-be buyers can experience how a sofa or a bedroom set would look in their house.

Lobbyists like to make their pitches to lawmakers over drinks and dinner. Picking up the tab isn’t the clincher; it is the comfortable, relaxed environment that can make lawmakers more receptive. 

Media buyers practice a form of embodied cognition perspective when they place TV and radio ads on channels and in slots where their target audience is watching or listening.

A more recent adaptation are in-store apps designed to assist customers in stores find what they want without searching endlessly or asking a clerk for help. It’s also a great way to conduct flash sales. 

The research is a good reminder that colors, convenience, organization and friendliness can convert shoppers into buyers. Variations of those principles when applied to public policy advocacy can move people from skepticism to support.

If you want to change the way people think, don’t overlook courting the way they feel. If possible, make sure they have a warm cup of coffee in hand so you can take advantage of a receptive moment.