Strange Psychological Facts
Strange Psychological Facts You Should Know about Human Behavior
“A little learning is a dangerous thing . . .” Do you know who first made that statement? No, it wasn’t an American politician. It was Alexander Pope during the 18th century.*
I should amend that statement to read: “a little learning is like chicken soup for a cold; it can’t hurt.” Especially if that learning discloses a few strange and peculiar psychological facts about human behavior.
If you are a writer – or a salesperson – much of this information can assist you to reach and hold your audience. Have I got your attention?
Okay! Here are four strange psychological facts about human behavior:
1) You can remember 3 or 4 things at a time.
Have you heard that you can remember 7 things at a time? Wrong! That is like an urban legend based on a paper authored by a fellow named G. A. Miller who was simply expounding on his unproven theory. He believed that we can remember 7 plus or minus 2 things. In other words, he was saying people can process from 5 to 9 pieces of information at a time.
That is not accurate. A British scientist named Alan Baddeley conducted a series of studies on human memory and concluded that the correct number of things we can remember is 3 to 4 items for about 20 seconds. They will then disappear from our memory unless we repeat them over and over.
You can test this for yourself. Someone gives you a phone number and you don’t have a pen and paper so you repeat the number over and over until you can dial the number or write it down. By repeating the number, you put it back into short term memory which buys you another 20 seconds each time.
The interesting thing about phone numbers is that they are more than 3 or 4 numbers long. So they are hard to remember for more than 20 seconds. To solve that problem we break up the ten-digit phone number into three groups with 3 or 4 numbers each.
But there is more. Research scientists in the field of decision-making tell us that people cannot choose effectively between more than 3 to 4 items at a time.
So if you are using Amazon or eBay on your hub or website, display no more than 3 to 4 items in each group of products.
And if you sell products or services for a living, confine your sales approach to 3 or 4 benefits at a time.
2) You can’t multi-task.
I know. You think you can multi-task because you are proficient at switching back and forth quickly but you are fooling yourself. Research has shown that we can perform only one cognitive task at a time. We can be reading or we can be typing. We can be reading or we can be talking. We can be reading or we can be listening. One thing at a time.
There is one exception. If you are performing a physical task that you are good at and have done very often, then you can perform that task while you are doing a mental task. Which means if you are walking – not driving! – you can also text on your cell phone. Then again, this may not be an exception. Watch the video of the woman texting on her cell phone while walking in the mall.
Do I hear you asking, ‘But doesn’t the millennial generation multi-task?’ Another urban legend. A Stanford University study published in 2009 found that when subjects were asked to deal with multiple streams of information, they could not pay sufficient attention, could not remember as well, and did not switch tasks as well they thought they would. So do one thing at a time.
The Reptilian Brain
Food, sex and danger all in one
3) You can’t resist noticing food, sex or danger.
Why does traffic always slow down when people are driving by an accident? Do you lament the fact that people are attracted by that which is gruesome, and yet you can’t resist looking over as you drive by?
We can’t resist looking at scenes of danger. It’s the old or reptilian part of our brain warning us to pay attention.
Psychologists tell us we have three brains. The new brain is your logical, reasoning brain. The mid brain is the part of the brain that processes emotions, and the “old brain” is the part of the brain that is most interested in your survival.
The old brain developed first and is very similar to the brain of a reptile, which is why it is often called the “reptilian” brain. Its job is to examine your environment and answer these questions: Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me? That is actually all that the old brain cares about: food, sex or danger.
Think about it. Without food you will die and without sex the species will not continue. And if you are killed the other two questions don’t matter. In the beginning, animal brains developed early on to care intensely about these three topics.
As animals (humans) evolved they developed other capabilities – logical thought and emotions. But they retained a part of their brain to always be aware of what is happening regarding these three critical questions.
This means that you just can’t resist noticing food, sex, or danger. No matter how hard you try to not notice these three things in your surroundings, you will always notice them. It’s the old brain at work.
Of course you do not have to react when you do notice these three things. You do not have to eat a piece of that chocolate bar the moment you see it.
You do not have to flirt with some attractive person you just met.
You do not have to concentrate on that car accident as you pass by. But you will notice all those things whether you want to or not.
If you want to get someone’s attention by your writing or at your website, then what better way that to include images of food, sex or danger? You will definitely provoke attention. Trust me.
4) You have selective attention.
The psychological term is inattention blindness. This means that we often miss or not aware of large changes in our visual field.
Do you doubt that? Then watch this video and test your own awareness for yourself.
* “A little learning is a dangerous thing ... drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring; There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.” - Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
The video is an example of what is called inattention or change blindness . The premise is that we often miss large changes in our visual field. Many experiments have been performed proving that this is true.
So what does this mean if you are writing something to be read online? Or designing a website? It means that you cannot simply assume that just because something is on the screen means that people see it. Remember, just because something happens in the visual field doesn’t mean that people are consciously aware of it. You may have to use repetition.
So there you have it – four strange and peculiar psychological facts about your behavior that I have emphasized by utilizing strange psychological facts number 1 (you can remember 3 to 4 things at a time), and number 3 (images you can't resist).
Footnote: Since I am older than soil, I know many more strange peculiar psychological facts. If I remain on my meds, I may write Part Two about seeking pleasure and . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzz!
© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2012. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So." Includes valuable information for older workers, and how to negotiate salary successfully.
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