Category: Design

The Behavioral Science of Socks!

Socks – really?

No, this isn’t one of those government studies where you wonder how it ever got approved (i.e., how long can shrimp run on a treadmill or does playing FarmVille on Facebook help people to make friends and keep them?*).

Socks and behavioral science. The two do not seem to fit together, yet I consistently use my socks as a personal behavioral modification tool.

Here’s how.

I have a penchant for different types of imaginative socks.  It started 11 years ago, when one of our Au Pairs from Poland gave me a pair of very colorful, bright blue and green striped socks for Christmas.  Before that, I was a bland brown and black sock kind of guy.

But I liked wearing the colorful socks she gave me – I always seemed to smile when I put them on in the morning.

As the years went by my colorful sock collection grew, both through my own purchases and through gifts from family and friends.  As I collected more socks, they began to go beyond wild colors. They started to have pictures and statements –  I had green socks with little footballs on them, red socks from Canada with drawings of little beavers on them.  My kids even got me a pair of “I’m kind of a big Dill” socks with a picture of a large dill pickle on them. I often can’t distinguish my Thomas Jefferson socks with my “the Thinker” socks (that have an outline of the Rodin’s famous thinker) when they are folded up in my sock drawer.

As my collection grew, there were three pairs that have led to my belief that something as simple as socks can be used as a powerful behavioral hack.

The first are my Einstein socks.  These black socks feature colorful caricatures of Einstein with wild colored hair.

The second are my blue socks – punctuated by menacing sharks.   

The final pair are my unicorn/ narwhal socks, emblazoned with unicorns battling narwhals horn-to-horn.   

I’m not sure when it started, but over time I realized that I was wearing each of these socks on specific days to help build and sustain a mindset for myself.

Mindset and Socks

On days when I thought that I needed to be particularly smart, I would put on my Einstein socks.  If I was giving a presentation, needing to do an analysis of research data or brainstorm ideas with a client, I would purposefully put these on in the morning.  They framed the day, acting as a gentle reminder. Whenever I looked at them that I was smart and ready to refocus my energy.

The shark socks were worn on days when I needed to be tough and direct.  If I was working on a contract or in need of a tough conversation with a client or employee, I would pull out the shark socks.

Finally, the unicorn/narwhal socks were used when I thought I needed a little bit of magic in my life.  When I needed to feel lucky -the days I had a meeting with a new potential client or when I was flying.

The interesting thing is that each day I wore the different socks, I had a different attitude., I exhibited different behaviors.

I started to wonder:  was this just me, or if was there something more to this?

Research

So, I looked for some research.

Alas, there was no research on “socks’ impact on behavior” that I could find (if anybody knows of any, please let me know).

However, there was plenty of research on the effects of attentional selection, pre-loaded associations, influence cues, and priming.  These psychological components have been shown to influence our behaviors – often without us being aware of their influence.

Robert Cialdini, one of the preeminent researchers on influence, says this in his book Pre-suasion, “…exposure either to simple words or simple images can have a pre-suasive impact on later actions that are merely associated with the words or images.”  He uses an example where fundraisers who were raising funds for a local university were placed into one of two groups.  Before their shift, each group was given a sheet of paper with information “designed to help them communicate the value of contributing to the cause.”  The only difference was that one group received the information on a plain sheet of paper while the other group got the information on a piece of paper with a watermarked photo of a runner winning a race.   

We would think that this difference would have no or little impact on performance, the information is the same for both, yet those with the picture had 60% more donations than their non-picture counterparts.

Another example, this one that shows how priming can influence behavior was done by Bargh, Chen, and Burrows (1996).  In their study, Bargh et al., primed people with words that were related to being old.  When they subsequently measured their walking speed, the people primed with old age words walked slower than those who had not.

Dijksterhuis and van Knippernberg, two Dutch researchers did an experiment similar, but this time, using a quiz and priming people either to think of the attributes of “professors” or “soccer hooligans.”  They found that those participants primed to think about the attributes of a professor answered more general knowledge questions correctly (mean score of 23.4 out of 42) than the soccer hooligan primed participants (mean score of 17.9 out of 42).**

Back to socks

In essence, the socks I wear prime my behavior.

Because I have a pre-association of Einstein with “smart” or sharks with “mean” – they have primed my mind to respond in this way.  They also act as a vivid reminder of my intentions, refocusing my thoughts throughout the day whenever I catch sight of them.

Now does this mean that I’m a completely different person when I wear different socks?

No.  I’m not a completely different person.  My behavior is going to typically fluctuate around some behavioral norm that is my baseline.  This norm is based on a number of factors that impact me including things such as the weather, how well I slept, what others in the room are doing, how I feel, etc.

But at some level, the socks I choose are having an influence on me.  They nudge me to behave in a manner based on the association that I have with them.  It may be a slight change in my behavior, but that slight change could have large impacts on the overall outcome of my day.

A word of caution, you better be careful if you are playing a game of trivial pursuit with me and I am wearing my new Einstein socks.  You’ve been warned!

References:

Bargh JA, Chen M, Burrows L (1996) Automaticity of social behavior: direct effects of trait construct and stereotype-activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71: 230–244.

Cialdini, R. B., (2016) Pre-fluence: a revolutionary way to influence and persuade.  Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Dijksterhuis, A., & Knippenberg, A.V. (1998). The relation between perception and behavior, or how to win a game of trivial pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(4), 865-877.

Other stuff

*I think that these studies get a bad wrap because the researchers do a horrible job of explaining what their study is about.  For instance, the shrimp treadmill study looked at how long shrimp would move on the treadmill in different water pollution conditions – trying to understand the impact that pollution had on their ability to flee predators and thus help predict how this would impact shrimp farmers in the future.  

**Many priming studies, like a lot of psychological studies, have a hard time being replicated.  The studies listed here have a mixed bag in the replication world – with some replication studies finding the priming effect and others not.  As with all research, we need to be careful in how we interpret their findings and how we apply those findings – often, the specific nature of the research isn’t easily generalized to other situations.  Unless we are talking about socks with images on them – then we know the applications hold true

 

 

 

5 Tips to HR on Effective Communication

Earlier this year we attended the IPMI Institute HR conference in Miami. We sat down with 10 HR executives from various industries and exchanged insights on what is going on in their world and how behavioral science can help.The following overarching themes kept coming up:

  • Organizations are finding cultural change hard
  • They have not had significant success at engaging their employees
  • They don’t have the bandwidth to prioritize employee communications—although they know doing so is important

Some insight from our behavioral and communication teams: if you can dial in communication, you can make change easier and increase employee engagement.

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Why Graphics Matter – Part 1 (of 2)

Why Graphics Matter – Part 1 (of 2)

So far in our design series of blogs, we have touched upon the concept of applying behavioral science to graphic design, and how reducing cognitive load can increase understanding, reduce myopic focus and drive home the key points you want your audience to grasp.

To catch up, check them out here:

Be sure to follow us to stay informed!

Today we are going to dive deeper into the visual element and explore “why graphics matter.” We utilize the concepts we will lay out in our employee communications, but the value does not stop there. Whether you are in communications, marketing, advertising, or trying to engage employees through internal Communications, this will apply to you. So, sit back, relax, and absorb.

Graphics are fun, graphics are pretty (well some are, beauty is in the eye of the beholder), graphics make information less boring – but there is far more to graphics than one might expect. When properly used graphics:

(read more on cognitive load here)

People are visual, and we experience things through this medium. Let’s get into these benefits in a little more depth:

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Cognitive Load – What it is and why it’s important

Back in January we introduced you to the concept of integrating Behavioral Science into Graphic Design. If you did not have a chance to read, or for a recap, click here: http://blog.lanterngroup.com/behavioral-science-graphic-design

Today we will expand a bit more on the idea of “cognitive load”.
Not only is cognitive load a valuable resource to utilize in graphic design; but it is also extremely valuable in communications, speaking engagements, presentation’s and an all-around useful tool for improving understanding.

Let’s take a quick look back at what cognitive load is:
Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in working memory. Rationally, we would think that the more information that a person is given, the better informed they would be; therefore, they would make more sound decisions. However, this is not typically the case.

  • Too much info and the brain can become overloaded and confused.
  • Break it down to the essentials and things just might stick!

In short, quite often: Less is More.

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Behavioral Science & Graphic Design

By pure definition graphic design and behavioral science may seem like two very different areas of study with very little connection to each other.

  • Graphic design is defined as: The art and profession of visual communication that combines images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience to produce a specific effect.
  • Behavioral science is defined as: The branches of science (such as psychology, sociology, economics or anthropology) that deals primarily with human action and often seeks to generalize human behavior in society.

However, by utilizing behavioral science principles when practicing graphic design, the result is a more cohesive, higher quality design.

Your design not only looks good, but can increase the impact of the message you are presenting and drive the behaviors of the audience. In fact, many marketing firms and advertising agencies are already utilizing these concepts in their designs to increase the effectiveness of everything from how you shop to what you buy, how you perceive a product or idea and much more. These trailblazing concepts are shaping the world around you and by utilizing them in your own designs you can drive the level of impact you are having when you communicate to the next level.

Here are two ways YOU can start using behavioral science RIGHT NOW to optimize the impact of your designs and join the growing list of professionals who are moving toward the new standard in design.


Reduce Cognitive Load

Let’s talk about cognitive load, the power of simplicity and how it can increase understanding.

Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in  working memory. Rationally, we would think that the more information that a person is given, the better informed they would be; therefore they would make more sound decisions. However, this is not typically the case.

People can become overloaded with information and it doesn’t always provide optimal outcomes.

For instance, if we are trying to present the high-level concept of the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation, let’s take a look at these two images:

cognitive-load-1cognitive-load-2

How long did it take you to understand the concept being presented in the first image? How about the second?

The simplicity of the second allows the brain to focus immediately on what’s important.

The first image is hectic, unorganized and does not allow you to focus in on the key concepts being presented. It is important to design so that you present the most important concepts and key takeaways in an easy to understand manner that does not get lost in the ‘fluff’.

In many cases, less really is more when it comes to making sure your audience interprets the message you are trying to convey.

Think of a billboard – you are cruising by at 65 mph (well probably 80 but I’m not supposed to be promoting speeding over here, let’s focus on design and the human brain)… you are cruising by at 65 mph, you glance up to see something that catches your eye but you have very little time to interpret the message.

With this in mind, the designer needs to ensure that the most important and key message jumps out and stays with you. Ask yourself when creating your design, what do I want my audience to understand IMMEDIATELY? Design around that intent and allow the rest of the design to compliment it without taking away from the main point.

So how can you reduce cognitive load in your designs and maximize the impact of the content and messaging? Remember:

key-callouts

Simplify and reduce.
Do you absolutely need to convey that information at this time?

White space is good
Fill the page with too much information and the brain can become overloaded.

callouts

Visuals.png

 

Visually represent your ideas.
Visually representing information in an info-graphic or diagram can significantly reduce cognitive load.

 


Build Consistency and a Strong Identity with The Power of Branding

Creating a consistent brand, look & feel and color pallet within your design helps the audience link to understanding. If your design is part of a larger project, communication or campaign, utilizing a brand throughout the individual pieces creates a mental stamp for the audience to connect the pieces within that campaign.

At the Lantern Group, we have done a significant amount of work in the area of incentive compensation communications. With every client and project that we work on we start with one thing: establishing a brand and a look and feel for the campaign that we will utilize throughout every part of the project.

What we are achieving by doing this is establishing the expectation with our audience that when they see that brand their brain automatically connects it to the content and concept.

branding-and-understanding

Additionally, this can drive increased understanding – seeing that brand can help the user (often subconsciously) trigger what they have already learned in previous communications. These cues and reminders help provide a more immediate understanding of what the content will be and can lay out much of the legwork to capture the audience for you.

Let’s go back to the highway – you are cruising along at 65 mph (I’m willing to bet you think this is a wisecrack about speeding before you even read it, why? Because it feels the same as the previous comment)…

Anyways, you see a large yellow “M” – the golden arches. There is a good chance you already know what the golden arches represent without even needing to see the name of the establishment. The brand is so ingrained in your mind that the link to what you are seeing and what it represents become automatic (a strong established brand).

This same concept can be applied to communications and graphic design!

Now let’s go even further, there is also a good chance that you can remember what that restaurant will look like, what is on the menu, how the ordering process works,  etc. The cue has been planted with the yellow “M” and your brain connects the pieces.

Now incentive communications may not be as exciting as a Big Mac, a milkshake, and some fries BUT we can create that same visual cue through a strong brand and increase the power of the information we are presenting.  We are allowing our incentive brand to initiate the understanding amongst our audience every time we send out a communication.

You too can have that same impact on your audience when communicating the information you need to get across, the advertisement you are creating, or the logo you are designing by establishing a strong brand.

We hope this has helped you begin to understand the benefits of applying behavioral science to your designs. Next time you begin a design start by establishing a strong brand and evaluating exactly what NEEDS to be portrayed to reduce cognitive load so you can redefine yourself as a behavioral graphic designer.

  • Behavioral graphic design is defined as: The profession of visual communication that applies scientific principles dealing primarily with human behavior to the art of combining images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience and drive human behavior.

This has been just the tip of the iceberg, there are many more ways in which we can apply behavioral science to graphic design to optimize the impact is has. If you want more information on how those ideas are being used by the leading companies in the world, join us – click the links below to follow!

 

 

Don’t Be A Communications Relic – Using behavioral science to make communications more effective

Communication Relic - LGWant to make communications more effective – use behavioral science

Over the past few years, we have seen a shift in how organizations value their internal communications.  In the past, employee focused communications were often an afterthought.  Companies would spend significant time, effort and money on developing out their incentive plans, making sure they were designed to drive the right behaviors and performance, only to communicate it to the field in an e-mail with a 30-page, single-spaced legal contract attached.

Thankfully, this is starting to change.

Today, organizations realize that they need to invest time and resources into their internal communications to optimize their value and impact.  As companies make this investment we are seeing a significant improvement in the design and visual appeal of internal communications – from incentive compensation to benefits to operations; the production value of employee communications has risen.

However, merely making a communication look pretty and appealing isn’t sufficient in today’s hyper-competitive world.  Organizations need their communications not just to inform, but also to spur new behavior and actions.

When companies communicate about programs that require employee action, they often only see a small change in employee behaviors (or no change at all) – even when these actions have clear benefits for the employee (i.e., increasing their contribution to their 401K plan, using a flexible health care spending account, or changing their selling behavior to align with the new incentive plan to maximize their own earnings).

This is where behavioral science comes in.

Behavioral sciences such as psychology, sociology, and behavioral economics help improve organizational communication and drive both action and behavior change.  These cutting edge scientific concepts are currently being used heavily in consumer marketing with positive results – and now they are being implemented by many companies as part of their internal employee communications to achieve similar results inside the company.

Read further to make sure that you’re not being left behind. 

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