2. The key role of emotional reactions
Recent research in cognitive neuroscience has shown that people are often unable to make complex decisions using only cognitive processes (such as reasoning). This is due to our neural systems, which can be overloaded with information. In this case, we may recur to what is known as “somatic markers,” brain associations between stimuli that produce a physiological affective state.
It sounds complex, but the main point here is that whenever we encounter a product, our limbic system within the brain immediately classifies the stimulus as pleasant/unpleasant, and engages in an appropriate physiological reaction. For example, we see a wonderful car and our heart starts beating faster. This emotional reaction is fast and automatic, and is registered in our memory systems together with the stimulus that elicited it. Whenever we encounter again the same product, the same physiological reaction is activated by the brain, even if we are not aware of it.
If we have trouble choosing between two competing products, the choice is made on the basis of the initial physiological reaction to one of them (regardless of the rational interpretations that we might provide for justifying such choice). That is, emotional responses often dominate over reasoning capabilities in driving our behavior.
In fact, we should consider that, from an evolutionary point of view, the limbic system, involved in memory and emotional reactions, is 200 million years old, while the prefrontal cortex—mainly responsible for our reasoning activity—is only about 30,000 years old. It is then not surprising to observe that we still strongly rely on the more ancient systems in our brain under circumstances where rational thinking becomes more complicated (for example, because of the many options available, the constrictions in time or the high level of environmental noise). Whenever we are in trouble, our brain sticks with the most ancient and reliable mechanism.
Considering that our brain stores reactions to a whole experience rather than to a single stimulus, packaging that efficiently elicits specific physiological reactions is likely to be very effective in gaining a consumer’s loyalty to the product!
NEXT: 3. The relevance of tactile information