I heard a great Radiolab story on NPR this morning. It was about a recent experiment at Stanford University exploring the rational vs. emotional sides of our brains. Researchers asked undergraduate volunteers in one room to remember a series of numbers and then walk down the hall to another room to record their numbers. One volunteer had a 2 digit number and the other had a 7 digit number.
As they walked down the hall trying to remember their numbers, a friendly staff member stopped them and asked if they’d like a treat – as a thank you for their participation. She offered them the choice of chocolate cake, or a bowl of fresh fruit.
As they struggled to remember their numbers and make the choice, those with the 2 digit number overwhelmingly chose the fruit. While those trying to remember the 7 digit number overwhelmingly chose the chocolate cake.
What the researchers realized was that when the human brain gets overloaded with too many thoughts and decisions to make, like those with the 7 digit numbers, they resorted to making an emotional, easy decision – the cake. While those who didn’t have as much on their minds were more easily able to process the decision and choose the rational, healthy choice.
This story and the research behind it are so fascinating for what they mean for marketing. Companies now know how to really reach the emotional, impulse side of our brains. Are we going to start seeing Oreo commercials begin with 1 8 6 5 3 4 9?
[Listen to the story here: NPR story.]