Changing your Mind

Getting you to change your mind (and thus your behaviour) is the objective of most marketing. But what if it’s the marketers struggling to keep up with our changing minds?

As we multi-task more, we emerge with a weakened sense of identity, finding it hard to empathise with others or concentrate well, warns (Baroness) Susan Greenfield, Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Oxford University. She says that the amount of multi-tasking people carry out in daily life is dramatically affecting the human brain.

Neuromarketing author Martin Lindstrom agrees: “Our brains are rewiring themselves because of multi-tasking, so the new younger generation are in fact more able to multi-task than older generations. This isn’t because they have trained themselves to do it, it’s because the brain is literally redesigning itself around the fact they are multi-tasking from birth.”

Greenfield explains that the human brain and short-term memory can only cope with a limited amount of input: Advertising messages on TV and billboards have been replaced with multiple channels – social networks, email, websites and face-to-face communication. Everything is scrambling for our attention, but according to Greenfield we can only cope with so much.

For marketers, achieving cut-through in a multi-tasking, social media age will increasingly involve understanding the consumer’s sense of identity. Brands that feed consumers’ desire for individual acknowledgement will seem more interesting and thereby gain an unfair share of attention.

Individual interaction then becomes the key to being relevant to the younger generation. Back to Greenfield: “Brands will need to make you feel wanted, important and individual. Goods or services that help people be creative, do something that no one else has done, or join the dots up in a new way, will be very powerful as they give people a sense of uniqueness. Just as we adapt to the environment, the environment drives what’s happening to the brain and will create different needs and motivations.”

E-mail hits productivity more than smoking dope

E-mail was supposed to enhance productivity right? Well in fact the daily distractions of e-mails and instant messages cause a greater loss of IQ than smoking marijuana. Constant interruptions reduce productivity and leave people feeling tired and lethargic, according to a TNS Research survey of 1,100 Britons showing:

  • Almost two out of three people check their electronic messages out of office hours and when on holiday
  • Half of all workers respond to an e-mail within 60 minutes of receiving one
  • One in five will break off from a business or social engagement to respond to a message.
  • Three out of 10 people believed answering messages during face-to-face meetings was not only acceptable, but a sign of diligence and efficiency.
But Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College London University, found the IQ of those who tried to juggle messages and work fell by 10 points — the equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep and more than double the 4-point fall seen after smoking marijuana.

“This is a very real and widespread phenomenon,” Wilson said. “We have found that this obsession with looking at messages, if unchecked, will damage a worker’s performance by reducing their mental sharpness.”

Note – this is 2005 research but I happened across it today and it reinforces something I have blogged about here in the past. Surely the problem has got even greater in the last seven years? I would be delighted if anyone could point me to further academic research in this area.

One at a time please

Check e-mail. Facebook. Read the paper. Tweet. Check voicemail. And all of that while watching TV.  We are increasingly becoming defined by connectivity.  Work and home life mingle as a result. Multi-tasking extends now into most of modern life.

Is that what we really want? Well, many people tell me that multi-tasking makes them more productive. Increasingly, scientists disagree. Even after the multi-tasking ends, Stanford University research shows fractured thinking and lack of focus persist.

“Nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment,” says Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco.

“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”

I see consequences in my own life. Only ten years ago I would read a novel a fortnight. Now I fill most of my reading hours with browser behaviour – the sort of material I can consume in seconds: Twitter, news alerts, blogs, e-mail.

Last summer Emily Yoffe convinced me in an article in Slate, drawing on more than 50 years of psychology experiments, to conclude that the internet feeds the “seeking” part of our brains, flooding them with dopamine, but never accessing the opioids to deliver pleasure to the brain.

Other research underlines that people interrupted by e-mail report increased stress compared to those left to focus.

Whether it’s reading a novel for pleasure, concentrating utterly on a work task or even just spending time just on a conversation with the children, it may be time to ask whether, for all our connectivity keeping us plugged in to what’s going on, we might do better to concentrate on the task in hand. For our own sake, one task at a time please.

Getting a Fix off the Internet

internet attention span deficitWhat is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

WH Davies’ opening lines of his poem Leisure came to me at the end of another hectic week in which I flitted from e-mail to tweet to blog, hooked on communication but managing to spend ever less time actually reading.

Only ten years ago I would read a novel a fortnight. Now I fill most of my reading hours with the sort of material I can consume in seconds: Twitter, Facebook, news alerts, blogs, e-mail and lots and lots of searches.

I am not alone. Nicholas Carr asked in the Atlantic this time last year “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”  In it he speculates that our constant Internet scrolling is remodeling our brains to make it nearly impossible for us to sustain attention.

Emily Yoffe followed up in Slate, drawing on more than 50 years of psychology experiments to conclude that the internet feeds the “seeking” part of our brains, flooding them with dopamine, but never accessing the opioids to deliver pleasure to the brain.

Our brains are designed to be more easily stimulated than satisfied. “The brain seems to be more stingy with mechanisms for pleasure than for desire,” according to University of Michigan research.

“The dopamine system does not have satiety built into it,” Michigan researcher Kent Berridge explains. “And under certain conditions it can lead us to irrational wants we’d be better off without.”

So one Google search leads to another, although the information is not vital. It becomes easier to write an e-mail than a long paper. And we keep hitting “enter” to get our next fix.

If you’re still reading this article, then we’re not altogether lost. But do mankind a favour. Consider walking away from the blog and go and read a good book for a change.