Brain GameOpinion LeaderThe secret life of the brain             Share this        Opinion Leader
The secret life of the brainThe human brain has developed a hugelyefficient way of getting us through life– but its manage...
The secret life of the brainNew discoveries revealing how the brain reallydecides have important implications for anyonein...
The secret life of the brainWho’s in charge here?                                our intuitive, unconscious self, that the...
The secret life of the brainThe economist Herbert Simon referred to              isn’t actually involved in decision-makin...
The secret life of the brainTalking to the wrong brain                           which aggregate measures of purchase inte...
The secret life of the brainCutting out the spin doctor                           the chance to start spinning about decis...
The secret life of the brainInto the System 1 world                             connections last longer, but because they ...
The secret life of the brainBrain chemistry in action                             The relative strength of different neuro...
The secret life of the brainSystem 1 strategy                                   The importance of repeated experience in  ...
The secret life of the braininteraction between brands and experience can         rule of thumb is likely to predominate f...
Glossary of key termsAffect:                                                 psychologists describe emotions as resulting ...
You may                                                                                                                   ...
About In FocusIn Focus is part of a regular series of articles that takes an in-depth look at a particular subject, region...
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The secret life of the brain


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A guide to heuristics and the system 1 and 2 brain.

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The secret life of the brain

  1. 1. Brain GameOpinion LeaderThe secret life of the brain Share this Opinion Leader
  2. 2. The secret life of the brainThe human brain has developed a hugelyefficient way of getting us through life– but its management style means thatwe are often unaware of why we act theway we do. Share this Opinion Leader 2
  3. 3. The secret life of the brainNew discoveries revealing how the brain reallydecides have important implications for anyoneinvolved in influencing and understanding humanbehaviour. In the first of a series of articles, we lookat the challenge of understanding the unconsciousrules of thumb that govern our daily lives.Human beings like to think of other humans asrational creatures, that make logical choices andunderstand why they behave the way that theydo. Fortunately for the survival and sanity of ourspecies, we’re wrong.The human brain is certainly capable ofspectacularly rational thought. Moments ofsupreme logical deduction have helped us tograsp the physical laws of the universe andour planet, expanded our understanding ofourselves, put men on the moon and muchmore besides. But if we spent our lives operatingwith the same parts of the brain that delivered relative merits of climbing a tree or running; a trip to the supermarket would be enough tosuch achievements, we’d have been wiped or starving to death trying to work out which finish us off, as we stood in aisles for hours onout long before they took place: gobbled up berries and leaves were safe to eat. Even if end attempting to figure out a rational way toby lions and leopards whilst we balanced the we’d somehow made it into the 21st century, compare breakfast cereals. Share this Opinion Leader 3
  4. 4. The secret life of the brainWho’s in charge here? our intuitive, unconscious self, that the task of Time’s flyingThankfully, the human brain works in a far running our day-to-day lives is delegated – and One of the symptoms of this division of brainmore efficient way. As K.E. Stanovich and R.F. System 1 performs it using our limited brain resources is particularly familiar for humans inWest first described in a seminal paper of the resources as efficiently and rapidly as possible. their late 30s and beyond: the sense of timeyear 2000 (and Daniel Kahneman helped to Fast and frugal heuristics, shortcuts that cut flying by faster as we get older. Depressingly,make famous in his landmark book, Thinking, down on the need for brain time, epitomise this happens because we encounter less that isFast and Slow), we have broadly speaking, two the way that System 1 goes about things. A genuinely new to us. The fewer novel situationsforms of consciousness, two ways of using heuristic can best be understood as a rule of that we encounter, the less System 2 getsour brain. We reserve the slow, resource-heavy thumb; a means of approximating what the best involved in our daily lives, the less our rationaland exhaustively rational part that Stanovich course of action is likely to be, without the need consciousness is engaged with what we areand West termed System 2 only for occasions to consider options in any more detail than is doing and the less sense our brain has ofwhen we really, really need it. It is to System 1, necessary: always run when you hear a noise time passing. behind you, eat red berries rather than green ones, cereals without cartoons on the box are better for your heart, and so on. The heuristics that System 1 uses form part of an ongoing model of the world that has a near-instant answer to most situations that we encounter. Only when System 1 encounters a new situation that doesn’t fit into this model does it encourage the slow-moving, energy-intensive resources of System 2 to get involved. Share this Opinion Leader 4
  5. 5. The secret life of the brainThe economist Herbert Simon referred to isn’t actually involved in decision-making at It genuinely believes that it makes all decisions,this system of putting bounds on our use all. However, it has a monopoly on the task whereas in many cases it is simply spinning themof reasoning as “satisficing” (a term coined of explaining what we do and why we do it – in a way that seems logical. A kinder analogy mayfrom fusing “satisfy” with “suffice”). When both to ourselves and others. This means that be a company Chairman who has set corporatesatisficing, we focus only on finding a solution System 2 often has the job of coming up with strategy in the past (since System 2’s rationalthat’s good enough for our needs, and avoid explanations for decisions that it wasn’t actually thought helps set the framework for the wayexhausting ourselves trying to find the best involved in. System 1 operates) but has little idea how it ispossible course of action. Rationing our brain being executed in the present. System 2 monitorsresources in this way gets us through life Rory Sutherland, the vice chairman of Ogilvy, our unconscious behaviour and it can step inincredibly efficiently whilst allowing System 2 to has a handy metaphor that captures the very effectively when needed. But it struggles tofocus on the tasks that really require it, such as relationship between the two elements of distinguish between the times it decided – andworking out a complicated cost-benefit analysis our consciousness. System 2 thinks it’s the the times it simply fitted an explanation to afor example. For much of the time, System 2 Oval Office, but it’s actually the Press Office. decision System 1 had already taken. Share this Opinion Leader 5
  6. 6. The secret life of the brainTalking to the wrong brain which aggregate measures of purchase intentThis creates a huge problem for marketers appear roughly correct thanks to roughly equaland researchers because System 2 is the numbers of respondents giving the oppositeconsciousness they invoke when asking wrong answers. The inherent dynamism ofconsumers what they plan to do and why markets is another clue. Consumers constantlythey did what they did – and therefore the shift spend between a repertoire of brandsconsciousness that they build brand propositions rather than making the consistent choices thatand advertising strategies around. Yet in we might expect if decisions were based onanswering their questions, System 2 is often applied, reasoned thought.struggling to explain decisions that it had noimmediate part in. In order to get to the truth about how the brain works – and therefore the real strengths,The dilemma is this: when we ask System weaknesses and opportunities for brands –1-related questions of the System 2 brain, we need to adapt our approach in two ways.we risk inviting unreliability; yet it is no easy Firstly, we must avoid asking questions in waysmatter to get answers out of System 1 instead. that invite System 2 to explain our unconsciousSystem 1 does decisions – it doesn’t really do decision processes; secondly, we have to grappleself-expression. As a result, the vast majority of with the chemical and biological processesbrand research engages System 2, whilst lots of taking place within our System 1 brain in orderbrand decisions don’t engage System 2 at all. to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.We see the symptoms of these difficultiesthroughout brand tracking research. Oneexample is mutually compensating error by Share this Opinion Leader 6
  7. 7. The secret life of the brainCutting out the spin doctor the chance to start spinning about decisionsThe first task is potentially the simplest. And TNS it has little immediate role in. We find thehas already done extensive work re-engineering same pattern when respondents are asked tobrand tracker surveys to avoid System 2 giving rank brands: knowing which brand is rankedwell-intentioned but misleading answers. This number 1 on satisfaction is far more valuable ininvolves ruthlessly focusing on the metrics that predicting future behaviour than knowing whichactually relate to the way the brain works, and brands are ranked 2, 3, 4 and lower. System 1therefore correlate better with actual behaviour. is far less likely to consider such options when making its rule-of-thumb decisions, and byA great example is measurement of brand carefully amassing such marginal information,awareness, a staple of brand tracker surveys. researchers are simply diluting the data thatUnprompted awareness tells us a great deal actually matters.more about consumers’ likely recognition ofbrands and the purchase decisions they will So much for reducing System 2’s influencemake than aided awareness, which relies on on our understanding of System 1 decisions;System 2 activity in order to bring a brand to the second part of the challenge is the moremind. Unsurprisingly, spontaneous awareness complex one: getting to the bottom ofcorrelates far better with actual behaviour how System 1 actually works. This requiresthan aided awareness. The simple and obvious researchers to leave the rational consciousnesssolution is to cut aided awareness questions behind and look in more detail at the chemicalout of tracker surveys – and not give System 2 processes that take place in the brain. Share this Opinion Leader 7
  8. 8. The secret life of the brainInto the System 1 world connections last longer, but because they the brain. It’s a natural neurological platform forThe heuristics through which System 1 makes transmit faster. This triggers a faster activation heuristic decision-making, because it inevitablymany decisions are reinforced by affective of the memories or experiences associated with prioritises one form of pattern or associationmemory structures; networks of neurons that them, and ensures they get more attention from over another in a given situation.are associated with things the brain recognisesin the outside world, and with the emotionsthat it feels in response to them. Because theconnections between neurons in the brain decayover time, these patterns are inherently unstableand potentially unpredictable. However, notall neural connections are created equal; someare both stronger and more durable thanothers. This is particularly true of connectionsbetween neurons that are activated togetherover a longer period of time (a process knownas Long Term Potentiation) or during arousingor emotive experiences that release connection-strengthening chemicals (fear, anger and sex aregood examples).The relative strength of neural connectionsmatters, not just because stronger neural Share this Opinion Leader 8
  9. 9. The secret life of the brainBrain chemistry in action The relative strength of different neuron at £3.99 rather than £4, for example) can beWe see the relative strength of neural networks can create an attentional spotlight highly effective.connections at work in many of the most that focuses on one element in decisionfrequent heuristics followed by consumers. making to the exclusion of others. This canFamiliarity bias is a heuristic that results from happen unconsciously, as when our brain isthe regular reinforcing of neural connections primed to focus on different things in differentthrough repeated exposure or the regular environments (making us unable to see itemsrepeating of an action. Over time, this favours that are out of place in a supermarket shelf, forthe activation of specific associations over example); or consciously, when we have made aother, less familiar ones. For a shopper in a decision to focus on a heuristic such as price.supermarket, this might involve buying exactlythe same brand and type of shampoo every time When focusing on a single heuristic, we invokethat they visit – something that sales data tells Gigerenzer’s Stopping Rules, whereby ourus happens 45 percent of the time. However, decision-making uses a small, manageablebecause the neural connections biasing this combination of attributes to differentiate ourchoice are not permanent, familiarity bias choices – and then stops as soon as it finds thecannot be relied upon if the reinforcement is choice that wins on that basis. When comparingnot maintained. While the most regular users prices, for example, we don’t waste brain timeof a brand are most likely to maintain their level weighing up the detailed characteristics of eachof usage the following year, consumers who product; instead, we quickly approximate whichuse the brand on a less frequent basis are more seems to offer the best relative value. Given thelikely to drop it from their repertoire altogether. speedy nature of this decision making, tacticsWe see the results of this in shifting share of such as anchoring to lower numbers (pricingwallet patterns. Share this Opinion Leader 9
  10. 10. The secret life of the brainSystem 1 strategy The importance of repeated experience in men who see the ad, and creating strongerOnce brands and marketers are armed with reinforcing neural connections means that affective memory patterns as a result. Whenan understanding of how the System 1 brain factors such as availability, affordability and these same young men next walk past theoperates, they can start to develop effective distribution are hugely important to brands’ true brand in a bar or supermarket, these affectivestrategies for influencing it. This can involve strength in the market. Products that consumers memories fire up far faster than those triggeredensuring competitiveness on the heuristics see and have the opportunity to buy regularly by rival brands thanks to the benefits of heavilythat are most influential for their category – have far more opportunity to reinforce relevant reinforced neural connections. The brand leapsor alternatively, hijacking the heuristic process networks of neurons and benefit from cognitive out at the consumer and stands an increasedby creating and triggering powerful affective biases like familiarity. On the other hand, a chance of ending up in their shopping basketmemories in the brain that demand even product that is out of sight through lack of or pint glass.more attention. distribution, or never bought through lack of affordability, could easily drop out of mind. Firing the chemicals that can create stronger affective memory structures can and should be Reinforcing affective memory structures through a priority for creative briefs: agencies that can repeated use is far from the only means of consistently develop TV ads with sexy casts and strengthening them, however. Flooding the terrifyingly, unpredictable and hilarious endings brain with relevant chemicals, known as (releasing neurotransmitting chemicals through neurotransmitters, helps to build strong and fear, humour and surprise) should be worth their durable connections – and ensures that a brand weight in gold. grabs more of System 1’s attention when it is encountered. Let’s take an unashamedly sexist Personal experience remains the most powerful approach to lager advertising as an example. force for creating neural connections, however A brand’s ads show its lager alongside scantily – and the impact of strongly positive personal clad young women, firing off neurotransmitters experience is generally likely to bias consumers in sex-sensitive areas of the brains of the young towards choosing the same brand again. This Share this Opinion Leader 10
  11. 11. The secret life of the braininteraction between brands and experience can rule of thumb is likely to predominate for a However, to do so successfully, it must commitwork in both directions, with the presence of a given brand, consumer and context. Research to looking beyond the traditional approach, avoidbrand itself firing off networks of neurons that has a crucial role to play in establishing the engaging in rational dialogue about instinctivecause a consumer to enjoy it more. EEG analysis heuristics that brands should be focusing on choices – and remember that the real action isshows that drinks really do taste better in the in their relationships to consumers and the often taking place elsewhere in the brain. We willbrains of consumers when they come from a most effective means of establishing affective look at further implications of such brain activitybranded container, for example. Interestingly, memories that can bias choice in their favour. for brands in later articles in this series.the experiences of other people, particularlytrusted friends or family, can themselves helpto form stronger affective patterns, attachingconsiderable value to positive word-of-mouthfrom these sources. The experience that guidesSystem 1 decisions isn’t always a consumer’sown.Which thumb are you using?Despite the tools that brands have at theirdisposal for influencing the System 1 brain,the importance of heuristics in day-to-daydecision-making still leaves them with adilemma. We know that in many situations,we unconsciously prioritise one rule of thumbover all others; the trick is in establishing which Share this Opinion Leader 11
  12. 12. Glossary of key termsAffect: psychologists describe emotions as resulting from Neuron:Affect refers to the perceptible and imperceptible the interplay between affective reactions and A nerve cell, within the brain or elsewhere inphysical processes in the body that are brought cognitive thought processes. the body, that is involved in the processing ofabout by the release of specific chemicals in information and the control of body functions, Heuristic:response to particularly arousing or salient stimuli, amongst other things. Also known as a ‘nerve’. A heuristic is a rule of thumb. They are oftenor by the recollection of emotive memories. Affect applied used in problem solving to limit the Neurotransmitter:generally helps us make efficient decisions by amount of detailed reasoning required by making A chemical substance that plays a pivotal role inhelping our brains focus on the stimuli, memories decisions based on a limited set of criteria (or transferring impulses from one neuron to anotherand experiences that are important for our survival. heuristics). Heuristics can be useful for rapidly within the brain (as well as between other nerveCognitive bias: approximating what the best course of action is cells in the body). The neurotransmitter is releasedA consistent mental deviation from purely rational likely to be in a specific scenario. Decision makers by a nerve impulse and diffuses across the tiny gapjudgement in the interpretation and storage of can adopt heuristic techniques both consciously (or synapse) between neurons, to trigger the sameinformation and experiences; sometimes due to and unconsciously. impulse in other neurons.evolutionary predispotions that have evolved over Long-term Potentiation (LTP):millennia and sometimes due to individuals’ limited The process by which “neurons that fire together,processing power. wire together”. Long-term Potentiation occursEmotion: when neurons that are stimulated together overA response of the brain to circumstances and an extended period of time develop a long-lasting,events, which involves a more conscious, enhanced ability to transmit impulses to oneidentifiable mental feeling than affect. Many another in the future. Share this Opinion Leader In Focus 12
  13. 13. You may References be interested in... About the author Kyle Findlay is a Senior R&D Executive at the TNS GlobalRory Sutherland, Ogilvy, discusses his perspective on Brand Equity Centre (GBEC) in Cape Town, South Africa. Thethe system 1 and 2 brain at the TNS Growth Summit > GBEC develops and supports brand and communicationsLet’s talk about you – Jannie Hofmeyr discusses how thinking and solutions within TNS. Kyle has been intimately 1. Kanheman, D. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slowto get accurate, actionable ideas from research > involved in the development of solutions such as the 2. Gigerenzer, G. 1999. Simple Heuristics that Make ConversionModel and models of consumer influence. Us Smart 3. Stanovich, K E.; West, R F. (2000). “Individual difference Kyle’s work feeds his passion for uncovering what makes in reasoning: implications for the rationality debate?”. people tick and sharing it with others. He has a strong desire Behavioural and Brain Sciences 23: 645–726. to bring the hard sciences to bear on the question of why 4. Herbert Simon people do what they do. This passion has encouraged him From Wiki: Simon, H. A. (1956). “Rational choice and the to delve into specific scientific areas such as neuroscience, structure of the environment”. Psychological Review, Vol. 63 network theory and big data to produce international No. 2, 129-138. (page 129: “Evidently, organisms adapt well award-winning papers in some of these areas. enough to ‘satisfice’; they do not, in general, ‘optimize’.”; page 136: “A ‘satisficing’ path, a path that will permit satisfaction at some specified level of all its needs.”) 5. Coke FMRI study: McClure, Samuel M.; Li, Jian; Tomlin, Damon; Cypert, Kim S.; Montague, Latane´ M. and Montague, P. Read. 2004. Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks. Neuron, Vol. 44, 379–387, October 14, 2004, Copyright 2004 by Cell Press Share this Opinion Leader 13
  14. 14. About In FocusIn Focus is part of a regular series of articles that takes an in-depth look at a particular subject, region ordemographic in more detail. All articles are written by TNS consultants and based on their expertise gatheredthrough working on client assignments in over 80 markets globally, with additional insights gained throughTNS proprietary studies such as Digital Life, Mobile Life and The Commitment Economy.About TNSTNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching andstakeholder management, based on long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presencein over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understandsindividual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world.TNS is part of Kantar, one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups.Please visit for more information.Get in touchIf you would like to talk to us about anything you have read in this report, please get in touch or via Twitter @tns_global Share this Opinion Leader 14
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