How the brain changes its mind - with Dr. Roeland Dietvorst

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Wolfgang Stockner (bluesource), Dr. Roeland Dietvorst, Felix Gottwald, Werner Kubitscheck (netzeffekt), Martin Sprengseis-Kogler (mobile-pocket) © Evelyn Pirklbauer

Why do bumblebees play soccer and what can we learn from this for our products? The internationally renowned neuroscientist Dr. Roeland Dietvorst revealed it to the guests of our Meet & Greet together with netzeffekt. And we reveal it here:

How people make decisions

Designing apps, websites or advertising materials is a very conscious, mental activity. Users, on the other hand, are in a very intuitive state of mind while interacting with them. This discrepancy is the reason why our designs often lead to unexpected or even undesired effects. 

Neuroscientists have proven that decision making has nothing to do with conscious, rational thinking. Rather, however, it has to do with reflexive neural mechanisms that operate outside of our awareness and control. 

Examples of how these mechanisms operate and tips on how to improve designs or marketing materials based on brain research were provided by internationally recognized neuroscientist Dr. Roeland Dietvorst at our Meet & Greet.

Reward desired behavior

Have you ever seen a bumblebee play soccer? It's not natural, but it can learn to do so. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London proved this in an experiment: the animals rolled a ball into a hole and then received a sugar solution as a reward. This shows how great the learning and adaptability of insects is and how behaviors can be controlled by rewards. 

Fast and slow thinking

Probably the best-known theory in behavioral science was put forward by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. It describes the process of "fast and slow thinking." 

System 1 is the "older" system. It runs automatically and below the level of consciousness. It includes the mental activities we are born with, such as the readiness to perceive the world around us, to recognize objects, or to direct attention.
System 2 is the slower, analytical one, in which the mind dominates. It is activated when we do something that does not come naturally and requires a conscious, mental effort.

Quite a few studies have shown that the brain makes decisions for us within 130 milliseconds. That's about halfway through the process before we are aware of what we are seeing or how we are deciding. 

So fast and slow thinking theory helps us understand how our minds process information, and how we can influence behavior in different directions. 

Winning with theory in practice

So how does this knowledge help us now in terms of our design, marketing, or products? Here are a few practical tips:

  • The more "System 2" is claimed to understand the product, the harder it will be to win over the customer. 
  • We can't be persuasive if our customers can't imagine what happens next.
  • Test, test, test: What works for one brand or product does not automatically work for another. 
  • It's a misconception that people have to love a brand before they buy. The truth is: (Digital) products must work smoothly and be intuitive and easy to use. 
  • Entertainment used in moving images must fit the brand message.
  • Faces are always good, but the environment and direction of the gaze should match: In newspapers or magazines, it makes sense to make direct eye contact, otherwise it has been proven that fewer sales are made. For images on landing pages, the human gaze should point to the most important CTA. Otherwise, you risk losing performance.
  • Carousel sliders on websites may look nice, but they require the user's attention over and over again, interrupting the desired user journey.
  • With moving images, it is better to fade in important elements one after the other. The written text should appear at exactly the same moment as the spoken text.

Want a deep dive?

If you want to dive deeper into these topics, Roeland Dietvorst recommends the following books:

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Consciously shaping the future

Preprogrammed or once ingrained, behaviors are difficult to change. However, if even bumblebees can learn new skills, we should try ;) 
If you need motivation to consciously shape your future, the best way to get it is to read our blogpost "Shaping the future consciously" with Austria's most successful Olympic athlete Felix Gottwald. 

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