Are there such people as professional “analogists?” These would be experts at coming up with powerful analogies to help people understand complex or misunderstood notions. If there are such people, I could certainly use one. I’m trying to come up with the perfect analogy to communicate how cognitive processing and emotional processing are not separate paths to decision making and behavior. They necessarily work together.
The best that comes to mind is a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (RPBC). Its optimum “effect” (i.e., taste) needs both chocolate and peanut butter. Yes, some effect would be produced with just the chocolate. And some effect would be produced with just the peanut butter. But the intended effect — its unique taste — needs both.
Just like chocolate and peanut butter necessarily combine to produce RPBC’s optimum effect, cognitions and emotions necessarily combine to produce humans’ optimum decisions and behavior — decisions and behavior intended to optimize one’s well-being. And they do so automatically as the result of how we’re neuro-biologically constructed. (There are many terms for “neuro-biologically.” By this I simply mean how our bodies, including our brains, are physiologically, chemically, and neurologically constructed and programmed to operate.)
At least in one sense, the RPBC analogy is not perfect. In the cognition/emotion synergy, it appears that there is some linearity. Emotions appear to have the final say in driving our decisions and behavior. They provide the value that informs our decision/behavior mechanisms what to do. Yes, behavior occurs if emotional processing is dysfunctional. But that behavior has a strong likelihood to be dysfunctional, too. It’s not correlated with optimum well-being. Many neuroscientists and psychologists have shown this, chief among them probably Antonio Damasio.
But I digress. I’m getting away from the main point of this article. Let’s assume you accept the necessary synergy of cognitive and emotional processing. In this article, I’d like to share a little of what many researchers are finding about how emotions affect cognitive processing and what this might mean for marketing toward desired consumer behavior.
Although many articles support the information to follow, I draw heavily upon two:
Affective Influences on Cognition: Mood Congruence, Mood Dependence, and Mood Effects on Processing Strategies. Joseph P. Forgas and Eric Eich in A.F. Healy & R.W. Proctor (Eds.), Experimental Psychology. Volume 4 in I.B. Weiner (Editor-in-Chief), Handbook of Psychology. New York: Wiley. January 2011 (in press).
Affective Arousal as Information: How Affective Arousal Influences Judgments, Learning, and Memory. Justin Storbeck and Gerald L. Clore. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2/5 (2008).
Each article provides dozens of others supporting these points.
The first point to be made from these articles is that in fact emotions (AKA affect and feelings) do impact our cognitive processing — i.e., how we “think” about things. And cognitive processing includes what we attend to, what we learn and remember, and the judgments and evaluations we make about things in our worlds.
The second point is that emotions’ impact on cognitive processing can be conscious or unconscious. We don’t have to be aware of how we’re feeling about things for emotions to impact cognitive processing. (This is a point I’ve made many times in my articles, but it bears repeating here.)
The third point is that emotions impact cognitive processing from two of their defining characteristics – valence (whether the emotion is positive or negative) and arousal (in the vernacular, the strength of the emotion). (Note: Storbeck and Clore define arousal in more specific terms, but strength serves our purposes here.)
The points just made are higher-order. Getting more specific, here are the main points these articles make. (Please note that I’ve taken the liberty to substitute “affect” for emotion because some of these effects refer to moods instead of, or as well as, more acute emotional reactions. For the purposes of this article, I think affect is a reasonable surrogate.)
Positive affect generally activates relational cognitive processing, meaning that we assess how things generally relate to one another, placing less importance on discriminating details. On the positive side this leads to…
- Less cognitive effort
- Seeing all things more positively
- Remembering more things (but not more accurately)
- Greater creativity
However, on the negative side this leads to…
- Less attention to detail
- Less accurate memory
- Greater bias
- Greater gullibility
Negative affect generally activates item-specific cognitive processing, meaning that we assess the specific details of stimuli, being much more scrutinous. On positive side this leads to…
- More attention to detail
- More accurate memory
- Less vulnerability to deception
However, on the negative side this leads to…
- Greater cognitive effort
- Over analysis at times
- Greater skepticism
- Greater argumentation
Regarding the effect of arousal, Storbeck and Clore make the point that arousal generally augments the effects of valence. For instance, where negative affect is associated with enhanced memory for details, stronger negative affect is associated with even stronger memory for details.
It’s important to point out that these relationships are generalizations. They don’t always apply. Both articles point out moderating conditions. For instance, one’s personality traits, one’s personal goals, and the degree to which pre-existing responses have been programmed over time can override these general effects. However, it can be valuable to know that, generally speaking, these effects do apply.
Now perhaps what you’ve been waiting for. How can this apply to marketing toward desired consumer behavior? Well, here goes (with the caveat that I have not specifically found research studies that directly support these points; here they simply serve as hypotheses):
Induce some sort of positive affect along with your product/service message if you want targeted consumers to…
Simply feel good about your product/service without any details;
Not question your proposition and continue to agree with what they already believe or how they currently behave (e.g., brand loyalty);
Be more creative in inventing solutions.
However, induce some sort of negative affect along with your product/service message if you want targeted consumers to…
Pay attention to the details of your product/service;
Question past propositions and change their minds about what they already believe or how they currently behave (i.e., brand switching);
Be more discriminating in determining solutions.
Finally, with either induced affective state (positive or negative), add intensity (i.e., arousal) to augment these effects.
Returning to the RPBC analogy, I guess it’s literally too simple. How beautiful if the emotion/cognitive processing relationship was as consistent as the delicious flavor of chocolate and peanut butter. But please realize that the foundation is similar. The two work together, not separately, to produce a wonderful, desired effect.
As always, comments are certainly welcome. Until next time…