Thursday, July 30, 2009

Marketers Alert: Research Shows Trust Is A Brain Wash

The death of Walter Cronkite – the “most trusted man in America” -- prompted Paul Raeburn at NRP to interview Antonio Damasio, Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience at USC, and Director of USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute.

Raeburn asked Dr. Damasio what made Walter Cronkite so trustworthy. At first glance anyway, it seems brain chemicals were the deciders.

Damasio cited research that disclosed how -- at first sight -- human beings decide whom to trust. A large group of men and women of all ages and races were shown many images of expressionless people. Result? Certain facial configurations -- symmetry, sizes of facial components, overall balance, etc. -- triggered an automatic, rapid, undeliberated, non-conscious response to trust ... or not.

There’s more. When asked whether a voice can engender trust, Damasio said, “I believe so. It has to do with numerous aspects of voice. Probably pitch is the most important. The music of the voice, the tones and how they glide as you speak-- prosody -- is another important factor. [Our reaction] does not have to do at all with the content of the words.”

It seems that a “trustworthy” face coupled with a “trustworthy” voice can create a perfect storm of likeability. So what’s going on in our brains? That’s what Damasio and other neuroscientists are studying.

Damasio says certain types of brain damage can cause those affected to trust folks that others don't trust. By the same token, in experiments, the release into our brains of one small neuro-peptide – oxytosin -- also appears to increase a sense of trust in others. Awash in oxytosin, we seem to approach others more easily and with less fear. Damasio notes that oxytosin is an interesting molecule that has numerous other positive effects on human behavior, including effects on sexual behavior, romantic feelings, and even lactation.

Raeburn wondered if we can apply neuroscience to marketing. "Can this research, this notion of trust and what we're learning about it, help GM sell more cars and get itself back in its feet?"

“Yes, though I don’t know to what degree. I think it goes back to the fundamentals of human behavior and we don’t need to interpose detailed knowledge of the brain for that ... What is very important is for people to factor in this other aspect of trust with which we began the interview, which is natural, spontaneous, automatic and non-conscious [and which] will function as a bias...Ancient wisdom would tell you that you should not judge people by first encounter, but neuroscience can guarantee that [we do].”

As marketers, let's be sure the face/voice representing us is one consumers/customers/donors can instinctively trust. I mean, that’s not brain surgery .. or is it?

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

p.s. Still think these little brain washers aren't in charge? New research finally confirms that chemicals released in the brain do create the famous “runner’s high.” Finally, read NPR's full transcript here.

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