Why, after a long, four-day workweek, do you feel the need to go home and have a pizza, or a 9.1% Lake Erie Monster (yowzers!), or perhaps a triple scoop of Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie Ice Cream? Why? Because you have a weak prefrontal cortex, and you know it.
Or at least author Jonah Lehrer knows it. After all, in a Wall Street Journal article, Lehrer points to an experiment done at Stanford University, where dozens of undergrads were divided into two groups. Lehrer writes:
“One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.”
Here’s where the results get weird. The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Professor Baba Shiv, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain — they were a “cognitive load” — making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation.
So, what could this mean for us marketers? Umm, stop being so darn rational? Your information-overloaded consumers might not be able to digest another spoonful of facts, features, and benefits of why your product is vastly superior to the competition. They might just want some chocolate cake. Or some sweet jeggings. Or a video of some guy singing with goats. Or a . . . (feel free to hit the “No” button at anytime).