But people give different answers to certain questions when they are sitting in front of a computer screen alone from those they express when someone is there to ask the question. In one study, the answers to questions such as “How do you manage on your income?” varied between 29.9% and 47.7% saying they were “comfortable,” depending on whether the question was answered in the presence of someone else or not.
However, if I asked you to describe a £10 note to someone who had never seen one so that they could create it from scratch, I’m guessing that you wouldn’t get very close to reality. Are the “£” and “10” in the same color? Does the word “ten” appear on the note anywhere? If so, how many times? How many digits does the serial number have? Is it printed vertically or horizontally? What pictures are there? How big is the note exactly? Your unconscious mind has the answers, but your conscious mind is evidently preoccupied with other things!
Research has shown that print adverts processed outside of conscious awareness shift attitudes just as much as those processed consciously. In one study, 80 subjects were exposed to adverts either deliberately (they were asked to look at them) or incidentally (they were asked to assess the layout of the magazine page opposite). Afterwards, the group were asked to rate 50 adverts and say whether they had seen them earlier. Just 11% of those who had seen them incidentally recalled the ads that had been shown, but their ratings of them as more memorable, appealing, eye-catching, and distinctive were just as positively biased over the adverts not shown as those who had been exposed to them deliberately. It appears that the unconscious mind recognizes what it has seen before and, because it is familiar, can process it more fluently, which creates the feeling of liking something more – unconscious familiarity breeds affection!
When consumers who know a lot about cars were asked to evaluate a Honda ad, they rated it more favourably when it was surrounded by ads for prestigious brands like Armani and Rolex, than when it was in the context of less premium brands like Timex and Old Navy. When Simonson and Yoon compared how people evaluated the attractiveness of a series of products, including lawn mowers, food processors, and cars, they found that the strength of preference for a product was influenced by the context of choices presented at the time. For example, when a pen was selected from a set where it was significantly better than another, participants would pay more for it and think it wrote better than when the same pen was selected from a more balanced set of options. With the vast sums spent on advertising, a relatively small investment replicating Simonson and Yoon’s study for your own products and media options could lead to a dramatic difference in the way people feel about your brand.
In 1935 the pioneering social psychologist Mazafer Sherif invited people to take part in an experiment using the autokinetic effect. Participants looked at a point of light in a darkened room and were asked to report whether they thought the light was static or moving, a recreation of a natural phenomenon first observed by astronomers who thought that stars were moving. When participants were asked individually opinion was equally divided; however, when they were put into groups people tended to agree with the majority, even if this meant contradicting what they’d said originally. Later, when asked individually, they continued to subscribe to the group view. In other words, when placed in the context of a group, people will devalue their own opinion in the interest of developing an arbitrary position that is acceptable to the group.