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.: August 2007 --> Unconscious environmental cues have profound effects on human behavior

Unconscious environmental cues have profound effects on human behavior

» New research shows that human beings are "psychologically hotwired" to unconsciously respond much more strongly to environmental cues than was previously imagined.

Hidden in the room was a bucket of water with a splash of citrus-scented cleaning fluid, giving off a faint odor. After completing the questionnaire, the young men and women had a snack, a crumbly biscuit provided by laboratory staff members. The researchers covertly filmed the snack time and found that these students cleared away crumbs three times more often than a comparison group, who had taken the same questionnaire in a room with no cleaning scent. "That is a very big effect, and they really had no idea they were doing it," said Henk Aarts, a psychologist at Utrecht University and the senior author of the study.

I wonder if there's a way to turn this into a life hack? I'm becoming more and more interested in structural approaches to behavior modification, but unfortunately these studies also show that the minute people realize they are being manipulated, they rebel. Still, it seems likely to me that reducing the clutter in your environment, for example, would increase your productivity—in part because you would be sending yourself a message that you were cleared and ready to work.

 [ 08.01.07 ]


I highly recommend Bob Cialdini's Influence for insight into how "hard wired" responses shape our attitudes and actions. I encountered this book in two graduate level courses (one in decision/strategy analysis, the other in psychology). He describes these reactions as "click-whir" responses to various stimuli.

His book is incredibly approachable.

He offers a categorization of the seven major forces at work in all of us and describes "defenses" to all of them.

I would think that a "citrus-scented" cue, would naturally be particular to societies that use citrus scented cleaning agents.

This makes me think of how our preconceptions can affect our we perceive our environment: Years ago, when I would open my car door on a hot summer day after the car had been baking in the sun for hours, the heat would roll out of the opened door and I would hate getting into the hot car.

Then someone mentioned to me that when they get into a hot car, they really enjoy it: they close their eyes and imagine they're going into a hot sauna. The environment in both cases is extremely similar: hot surfaces, hot air, relative quiet, about the same temperature. If you perceive it as a car, you hate the experience. If you perceive it as a free sauna for a few minutes, you can really enjoy it. Since then I relish the experience of getting into a hot car and feeling the heat of the seat soak into my muscles. It's really quite wonderful.

So if I discover a bucket of citrus scented water in the office, the wife is subliminally telling me to clean up after myself?

the smell of well-brewed coffee makes a strange place familiar.



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