23 Nov 2010

Are you influenced by a cup of coffee?

In my first class in journalism school, the professor walked in carrying a brown paper bag. He told us that in our future lives as journalists this brown paper bag should carry our lunches, even if our sources wanted to take us out, or if the company provided a buffet, or even free coffee and some buns.

This hard core line against outside influence caused much debate in our class. Many scoffed, many - including myself - became true believers. I think all of us slipped once we hit the real world. You try telling a restaurant owner that you won't eat their food or refusing a cup of coffee from the retired figure skating judge.

But I still have held true to the overall belief. Even the cup of coffee makes us predisposed to like the person giving it to us, or at least not resent them for not offering the coffee.

In journalism, this is a bad thing, supposedly, to be influenced like this. And I agree. Even if objectivity is a myth that should be tossed out, you also do not want to be so obviously beholden to people. Independence is perhaps the better ideal to shoot for.

But in communications, you want to be doing the influencing. You want that journalist to write the story, or the customer to buy the product, or the employee to just love our company magazine.

And apparently, we can make that happen, if we're smart enough, which is more than a little scary. Via Six Pixels of Separation, I came across this article from psychologywriter.org.uk, which basically destroys any notion of our free will in the face of outside stimuli:

From the effect of mirrors and the subliminal presentation of happy faces, to the sight of a briefcase and the power of mimicry, the range of factors influencing our behaviour without us realising it is overwhelming. Taken together, the research undermines the notion that our conscious selves are in control, and points instead to a sophisticated nonconscious mind, wide open to outside influences, as the real source of our decision making.

And then there is this from PsyBlog, just on coffee:

Eighty per cent of adults in the US and the UK are moderate users of the psychoactive drug, caffeine ... Of all the effects it has on our minds—enhanced attention, vigilance and cognition—perhaps least known is its tendency to make us more susceptible to persuasion ...

The reason that a lot of persuasive messages pass us by is simply that we're often not paying much attention to them; our minds easily wander and we prefer not to think too hard unless it's unavoidable. By increasing our arousal, though, caffeine makes us process incoming messages more thoroughly, potentially leading to increased persuasion.

It seems my professor was right. So fire up that coffee pot and pour me a hot cup of joe.

I like you better already.

Nathan Hegedus

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Anonymous said...

where do you click the button for "like"??? (Independence is a much better ideal, especially in a mediascape replete with communications savvy operatives.) Well done, Nathan. -Chris

Kevin said...