In a recent New Scientist article, Dan Jones examined some of the startling phenomena of recent political times, most obviously the shock of Brexit/Trump votes and the ‘post truth’ politics underlying these events.
Jones observes that it is in the nature of human beings to think in biased ways. He quotes a study conducted by Dan Kahan at Yale University, which shows that amongst conservatives it is the most scientifically literate who are the strongest deniers of climate change. The phenomenon here is ‘motivated reasoning’ … people interpret facts to fit what they already think or feel. Thus, during these recent campaigns, we see the emergence of facts and ‘alternative facts’ that play to both the hearts and minds of different political tribes.
Kahan’s team conclude that only those fuelled by a genuine scientific curiosity that is more powerful than their competing motivations are capable of rising above opposing claims and making a more objective assessment.
However we are not seeing a new age in which facts no longer matter. When presented with objective facts, people will interpret them subjectively to decide if it is relevant and whether or not it matters to them. In practice, ‘motivated branding’ is the golden goose of many marketers, and finding the underlying keys that will unlock motivation is the ultimate goal of market research.
We have long known the importance of the emotive in either reinforcing or changing the direction of human behaviour. What cognitive neuroscience has now shown [on an MRI] is that emotion and reason are always fellow travellers in human decision making. On occasions, the impact of the emotive can be challenged by those who claim a special exemption for medicine, and objectivity rules because science, and scientists, are governed by different principles that rise above the biases of voters or shoppers and strives towards scientific rigour and objectivity.
In practice though, medicine is done by human beings to human beings and so is also subject to how human beings are. When new treatments are adopted into guidelines [or not] on the basis of the status and passion of their advocates, or when a patients’ treatment is upgraded on the basis of their ‘social worth’, we see a system in operation where the ‘emotive’ does count.
At Branding Science we understand that the task of market research is to determine how best to speak to or challenge human behaviour and build brands that are relevant to the audience and make them care. We need to have hard evidence in our story, but we also need to make it emotionally resonant:
And so ‘motivated branding’ should be the watchword of new treatments and new campaigns. It is not that the emotive is somehow a substitute for rational scientific evidence, but rather it should be a partner to it. Therefore we work with our clients to answer the ‘does this matter to me?’ question in the affirmative.
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This blog was written by Jon Chandler, Senior Director at Branding Science