SECOND OF FIVE WAYS EMOTION IMPACTS CONSUMER BEHAVIOR: IT HELPS US SEE AND HEAR BETTER, SO INCREASES BRAND/PRODUCT AWARENESS
Many recent scientific studies show that sensory performance, particularly seeing and hearing, is enhanced when stimuli are emotionally arousing. Yes, it appears that we literally see and hear better after being exposed to emotional (vs. non-emotional) stimuli.
For instance, in Emotion Facilitates Perception and Potentiates the Perceptual Benefits of Attention (2005), Phelps et al. induced fear in respondents (with validly proven fearful faces) and then tested their (early) vision (particularly “contrast sensitivity”). They found that indeed respondents who had been fear-induced (vs. neutral-induced) were more sensitive to contrast.
In somewhat of a review of this topic, Vuilleumier in How Brains Beware: Neural Mechanisms of Emotional Attention (2005) cites and explains evidence that emotion(s) “not only serve[s] to record the value of sensory events, but also to elicit adaptive responses and modify perception.” (‘Modifying perception’ here refers to sensory perception rather than cognitive perception.) Vuilleumier provides a mechanical, neural explanation for sensory improvement, implicating the amygdala as a central neural hub. In addition, and for the purposes of this article, Vuilleumier cites studies that show sensory improvement not only for vision, but also for hearing and smelling. Also cited are similar results for positive emotions, particularly happiness.
Regarding hearing, in Effects of Emotional Prosody on Auditory Extinction for Voices in Patients with Spatial Neglect (2007), Grandjean et al. found that auditory accuracy was enhanced for emotional vs. non-emotional utterances for a special group of disabled people (more on that in a minute).
Much of this research investigates whether emotion’s sensory enhancement is the result of emotion summoning attentional resources. In other words, do we see and hear better via emotion because emotion enhances attention to the stimuli? The answer seems to be partly, but not entirely. Studies are showing that emotional processing both organizes attentional resources, but can also unconsciously bypass attention to enhance perceptual abilities.
For instance, in their article (cited above) Phelps et al. say “the present results indicated that the effects of emotion and attention on early vision are not simply additive; rather, the joint effect of emotion and attention demonstrates that emotion potentiates the perceptual benefits brought about by transient attention.”
Returning to the Grandjean et al. article, their respondents were chosen because they had a specific attentional dysfunction. This allowed the researchers to see whether emotion could still enhance hearing. They found that indeed it could. Therefore, they concluded that “our results are consistent with the hypothesis that some mechanisms for ’emotional attention’ may still operate despite perceptual extinction and attentional deficits that result from parietal lesions.”
Further confirmation of emotion’s enhancement of sensory perception (and therefore awareness) comes from Anderson in Affective Influences on the Attentional Dynamics Supporting Awareness (2005). In series of studies involving the phenomenon of “attentional blink” (AB; being unaware of [i.e., missing] a quickly presented second stimulus following a first stimulus), Anderson demonstrated that AB was lessened when second stimuli were emotionally arousing. Therefore, second emotional stimuli more readily entered into awareness. Furthermore, Anderson showed that the arousal value of emotional stimuli was the key feature at work, rather than its valence (i.e., positive or negative quality).
Many other studies on this topic exist, but being short on space, let me summarize the main points for marketing and consumer/marketing research purposes.
1. Emotional stimuli, both positive and negative, trigger neurological processes that enhance our sensory abilities. In many cases, we certainly see better, but also hear and (possibly even) smell better.
2. This emotional-sensory enhancing process is in part due to summoning attention to the stimuli (and/or the environment around it), but not entirely. The emotional influence (toward awareness) exists even without conscious attention to the stimuli.
For consumerism, these results direct us to make and promote our products, services, brands, etc. in ways that are more emotionally engaging. Since consumers are inundated with consumer stimuli (including advertising of all types), those that are more emotionally engaging will literally gain more sensory attention & awareness and thus have a better chance of having the intended impact. Using a well-worn advertising term, they will be less likely to get lost in the “clutter.”
Perhaps this was a long way to arrive at a familiar, well-accepted place. Few would disagree that emotional marketing is better than non-emotional marketing. Or would they? Many marketers still pooh-pooh emotionality by naively believing that ”practicality” and “rationality” are really what drives people to buy their products and services. “Just the facts, maam” or “don’t let your emotions drive your decisions” might be their mantras. It’s high time that emotion is correctly understood as a natural, necessary part of the decision process that serves any degree of rationality. And it’s research like this that helps us see how emotion does its work — in this case, by improving and, as Phelps writes, “potentiating” myriad sensory, attentional, and awareness-generating processes critical to people’s (including consumers’) decision-making.
(All that said, I certainly just scratched the surface here. I welcome elaboration from others – confirming or refuting.)