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Food samples given away at grocery stores rely on “hacking” the brains of consumers with a clever influence strategy


If you’ve ever gone to a supermarket and taken a free sample of one of the store’s products – maybe a slice of cheese or a small cup of soup, for example – then chances are somebody tried to hack into your brain. Of course, “hacked” in this sense doesn’t mean using some kind of mind reading super power that you’d see in a science fiction film; rather, it is a persuasion technique that has been written about and studied by psychologists for many years.

A report published earlier this month by the American Psychological Association discussed this very concept, and how psychological persuasion techniques really can have an effect on the consumers’ behavior. “When someone offers a free sample, it’s not really free. It comes with the implied expectation that if a person accepts it, he or she will feel obligated to return the favor and eventually pay for the full product,” said the report, which was published on ScienceDaily.com. “That’s just one of the many insights psychology has uncovered about the subtle mechanics of persuasion and how people can recognize and respond to attempts to influence their behavior.” (Related: Read about how different colors can affect our moods and emotions.)

Speaking at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, said, “Persuasion is no longer just an art; it’s an out-and-out science.” Professor Cialdini continued, “Indeed, a vast body of scientific evidence now exists on how, when and why people say yes to influence attempts.”

With respect to trying free samples at the grocery store, many of us have most likely experienced this feeling of guilt after walking away from a vendor. Even if you didn’t end up purchasing the full product, chances are you at least gave it some thought because of this unspoken obligation you felt to return the favor. Truth be told, this is actually a psychological persuasion technique, and it is intentionally used more often than you think.

It is fair to say that the majority of persuasion techniques used today to get you to buy certain products or services use this same type of “brain hacking” strategy as the one described by the American Psychological Association. The website FastCompany.com has compiled an entire list of these persuasion tactics, including the scarcity principle, which states that people generally want products more when they are in short supply. This is why department stores often hang a sign on their products that says “just for today,” and why car companies often air commercials that say “you better act fast before it’s too late.”

Another “brain hacking” technique, called the Conversion Theory, states that the minority in a group of people are the most effective voices when it comes to persuading those in the majority, because those in the majority are the most likely to have joined simply because they felt there were no alternatives.

One persuasion tactic that many businesses use is informally known as the Yale Attitude Change Approach, which is based on years of research and analysis. Yale found that factors such as attractiveness and the way in which you speak can have an impact on how effective one is at persuading others.

Whether it’s in a grocery store or elsewhere, one thing we know for sure is that as research into persuasion techniques continues, psychology will play an increasingly significant role. Gone are the days when businesses simply went out and told consumers why their product is better than everybody else’s. Today, they know how to get inside your head – how to “hack your brain,” if you will – and get you to do things that you otherwise may not have done.

Sources include: 

ScienceDaily.com

FastCompany.com

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