Sunday, December 4, 2022

Robert Zajonc – Father of Advertising

Robert Zajonc specialised in social psychology and has conducted a number of very interesting experiments. His major discovery was the basic principle of advertising: “more you see of something more you trust it”.

One of his experiments was held in State University of Oregon where he presented himself as a mysterious student assisting classes during a period of two months. The professor knew his identity but none of the students did. The reactions of the students were observed and analysed. At first the students showed slight hostility but with time they have relaxed and some even became protective of the new student. Zajonc observed how gradually the hostility has turned into curiosity and finally into friendship. The first experiment has formed the basis of his next one where a sequence of aleatoric images (geometric forms, Chinese symbols, paintings and faces) was shown to subjects at a speed in which they could not registered weather any images were shown repeatedly or not. Afterwards the subjects were asked which images they prefer. Most have chosen images that were repeated most often during the sequence despite the fact that they were not conscious of it. That’s how Zajonc discovered that familiarity generates a change of altitude and that humans prefer that which is more familiar. This preference intensifies with the exposition frequency: the more we see of something the more we like it. 

Preferences are not rational

Zajonc suggests that most of our preferences are not rational. In an article titled: “Feeling and Thinking” Zajonc states that feelings and the process of thinking happen independently of each other. Feelings and emotions not only come before rationalisation but are also more potent determinants of human attitudes and decisions. This theory has influenced greatly the studies of our decision making processes not to say it has preceded the Neuro scientific discoveries. Basically it illustrates that our decisions are not made based no logic but are determined by our emotions before we even have the opportunity to begin reasoning with ourselves and that logic only justifies and rationalises our decisions after they have been made. Zajonc concludes that “affection always accompanies the thinking but thinking does not accompany affection”. For example, we don’t just see “a house” but we see “a pretty house” or “a poor house”. Every perception includes specific emotions.

Social facilitation means that humans tend to ejecute simple tastes better when observed by others than when are alone. But complex tasks are generally executed worse when one is observed. Interestingly this does not only include humans but a variety of animal species. For those of us in publicity business Zajonc theories are of grand impact.

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