The science behind emotional decision making. Why are our decisions dictated by our emotions?
As much as we would like to think that our decisions are purely rational conscious thoughts, increasingly researchers are pointing to our subconscious and emotions as a key driving force in our buying decisions.
Good decisions call on our memories and links to good or bad feelings from the past. Without these emotional memories we would effectively be starting from scratch every time we meet a scenario. In simple terms you could think of it as if our brain takes a snap shot of how we ‘feel’ when decisions are made, which can be recalled in an instant when a similar decision arrises.
How have we come about this insight? In the late 1970’s neurologist Antonio Damasio observed some strange behaviour in patients with damaged brains. When particular parts of the brain were damaged, people found it very difficult to make even simple decisions.
Through future testing, Damasio concluded that the parts of the brain damaged in his patients, were responsible for connecting emotions, knowledge and logic, all of which were required for good decision making. Given that emotions are considered physical (Somatic) Domasio labelled the phenomena as ‘Somatic Marker Hypothesis‘.
During his tests he found that patients with damage to their prefrontal cortices could not fathom a simple gambling game, losing their money every time, whilst non-damaged brains identified how to profit from the game quickly. The heart-rate in damage brained patients did not alter as a normal brain would, when exposed to horrific pictures of injured or mutilated bodies.
What are the implications for retail? Understanding that emotions and previous experiences are key to decision making can help you build retail experiences that can influence this positively. We have limited influence on peoples previous experiences, however we can try to stimulate pleasant associated thoughts to products or purchases. Associating popular music, family life, holidays and so on can link nice warm emotions whilst buying decisions are being made. Stores can also create new and favourable memories of your store for the future. Great experiences today are the “Somatic markers of tomorrow”.