Marketers use psychological tactics to influence, convince, and even deceive consumers. This article explores some of the lesser-know marketing traps and how you can avoid them.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
I’m sure it’s no surprise when you Google “bathing suits,” and shortly thereafter, swimwear ads litter your Facebook feed. Wikipedia defines marketing as “the business process of identifying, anticipating and satisfying customers’ needs and wants.”
There’s an entire branch of research dedicated to understanding consumer behavior via psychological, technological, and economical principles. However, you may be less aware of marketing tactics intended to foster false trust or play on subconscious fears.
Here’s a real life example: Recently, I used DoorDash to order breakfast from Silver Diner. I was shocked when the total came to nearly $70. Luckily, my husband was too; he suggested going directly through the restaurant. I selected the equivalent menu items and it was $30 cheaper!! DoorDash not only raised entrée prices, but charged additional fees on top of the delivery fee and tip. To think, I wouldn’t have compared prices had my husband not been (duly) outraged; I almost fell victim to “brand trust.”
Consider the companies you trust. Why don’t you question their products, services, prices, etc.? Are you brand-washed?
To avoid misleading marketing traps, always compare prices, read reviews from verified buyers, avoid grocery shopping when you’re hungry, steer clear of end-of-aisles deals, buy off-season, etc.
This article explores a few lesser-known ways marketers influence consumers by using psychological principles, and how to avoid them. When you, the consumer, know the science behind advertising strategies, you’re better equipped to make educated decisions (and will avoid feeling betrayed by a food delivery app!)
A false sense of health
Marketers use health-related buzzwords like “gluten-free” or “organic” to lure buyers with an impression of being nutritious. In one study, consumers viewed items stamped with healthy-sounding catchphrases as healthier than non-stamped foods.
Real life example: Years ago, I accompanied a friend to the grocery store. In the dairy section, she grabbed a jug of whole milk. I knew she wanted to lose weight, so I suggested skim. Dubious, she expressed concern because it wasn’t “vitamin D-rich.” Had she consulted the nutrition facts instead of scanning labels, she would know whole and skim have equal amounts of the vitamin.
Avoid this trap by reading nutrition facts and ingredients before buying. (Sure, those Fruit Loops are made with whole grain, but the first ingredient is sugar!)
Remain aware of your environment when shopping and if possible, go when crowds are thin (or at least wear ear buds).
An unconscious fear of dying may lead you to buy more bottled water – and water bottle companies capitalize on it!
(Um, what? I thought the occasional 7-Eleven purchase of Deer Park was a combination of laziness and convenience on my part, not an ominous and looming fear of my fragile mortality.)
In 2018, researchers asserted that “most bottled-water advertising campaigns target a deep psychological vulnerability in humans, compelling them to buy and consume particular products. Bottled water ads specifically trigger our most subconscious fear [of death].” It was also suggested that bottled water symbolizes something safe and pure – compelling when you want to avoid health risks.
According to the study, bottled water appeals most to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status.
Whether or not this study withstands replication, consider a filter!
The rationale: It’s easier for someone to visualize the comfort of a fluffy beach towel or the shade of an umbrella when it’s hot and bright (compared to when it’s pouring rain), thereby increasing the desire to make a purchase. Interestingly, this seems to hold true for sunny or snowy conditions, but not rainy weather. It was speculated that rain gear is typically purchased to avoid unpleasant conditions, not to increase enjoyment.
Be wary of the weather when shopping for that beach trip or ski vacation in the mountains; you may end up spending more than intended.
Even the wisest consumer can be “seduced.” Marketers both overtly and subtly influence our buying behaviors. Your brain will unavoidably betray you at times; you can either accept this or become a hermit. (You may also consider shopping where there are lenient return policies, but be wary of policies that seem too lenient, as this may be a ploy.)
The relaxation effect – don’t get too comfortable!
A 2011 study indicated that relaxed consumers perceived items at a higher value when compared to their less-relaxed (although not stressed) counterparts.
If you’re a bargain-hunter, stay alert to how you’re feeling before entering a store or searching on Amazon; otherwise, you may think you’re getting a great deal when you’re not. (And if you use social media, know that ads may have more sway when you’re sleepy.)
In the midst of misleading marketing tactics and #fakenews, stick with the facts and practice emotional intelligence; don’t be swayed.
As a #researchNerd, I’m obsessed with new discoveries and scientific explanations, especially when it comes to human behavior. Here are five interesting studies that have been published this year (and it’s only April!)
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
I’m something of a #researchNerd. I fell in love with my research and stats class in college. My undergrad study (on tipping behavior) was even published in a peer-reviewed international journal!
It was in grad school that I strayed from the research path to pursue a more clinical route (counseling).
Today, to satisfy my appetite for science, I subscribe to ScienceDaily, an amazing site that posts short summaries of the latest findings in health, technology, and society.
Here are some of the more interesting findings from ScienceDaily in 2019 (and it’s only April!):
We already know there’s a link between junk food and certain medical conditions (i.e. obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes), but more and more researchers are finding a strong correlation between diet and mental well-being.
In this study,
researchers found that people who ate more junk food (sugar-sweetened
snacks/drinks, fried foods, etc.) had higher levels of psychological stress.
It turns out, there’s a reason it’s hard to forget about all the good times with your ex or get that cringe-worthy mishap at work out of your head; it takes more brain power to forget than to remember. According to a recent study, it takes a “moderate amount” of brain power to intentionally forget something. (#worthIt)
Are you being “hunted”?
Or “gathered”? It turns out, male and female serial killers have distinct approaches
when it comes to killing. Evolutionary science may explain why men tend to
stalk their victims while women’s victims tend to be people they know.
This unsettling study revealed that individuals with obesity are not only stigmatized, but dehumanized. Researchers found that obese persons were considered “less human.” This type of attitude can lead to ridicule or discrimination.
(Updated 11/12/18) A list of peer-reviewed scholarly journals you can access for free online. Read the latest research findings related to mental health, addiction, and wellness.
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
This list is comprised of 70+ academic journals that you can access online. Most of the journals are open-access; others offer limited access (with some free articles). All of the publications are related to mental health, addiction, or wellness. I use many of them for research for this blog. The research is relevant to all health professionals and to anyone who is interested in learning more about mental illness.
What is the psychology behind motivation? This post examines the research on motivation and reviews the implications. The conclusion reached is contrary to what you may believe.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC
What is motivation? According to Merriam-Webster, to motivate is “to provide with a motive.” A motive is defined as “something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.”
Motivation is highly sought after in today’s society; it’s the golden ticket to success. You would think achievement (as an end result) is motive enough, but this proves to be false. We desire success, but we’re unable to maintain our motivation. It dries up or fades away before the goal is reached. For example, a dieter is initially motivated by weight loss, improved sleep, and increased energy; these are all powerful motivators. But it’s not enough. Why?
If you look to Google, you’ll find countless sites claiming motivation “secrets” or hacks. How to Motivate Yourself in 10 Easy Steps. 7 Easy Ways to Motivate Yourself at Work. 5 Surprising Tips to Increase Your Motivation Immediately. Don’t be fooled. The shortcuts are appealing, but they’re not backed by research. Motivation is complex.
To learn what it is that drives us (and why that driving force is often short-lived), I reviewed the existing literature on motivation. (Hint: There are no secrets, tricks, or hacks.) As you read the following points, consider your goals and the role motivation plays.
1. Motivation can be intrinsic (arise from within) or extrinsic (influenced by outside forces).
Intrinsic motivation is rewarded internally. An example of intrinsic motivation would be pursuing the study of archeology because it holds a strong appeal or attraction. The behavior of engaging is the reward. Research establishes a strong link between interest and intrinsic motivation. Alternatively, extrinsic motivation refers to externally rewarded motives, such as writing a paper for a grade or performing well at work for a raise.
Practical application: If you’re looking for the motivation to achieve a goal, but lack the drive, add an incentive. Be creative. Choose rewards that are meaningful.
2. The presence of dopamine is related to motivation.
Studies have found that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a considerable role in motivation. More recently, researchers have speculated there are specific areas in the brain responsible for motivation.
To consider: A lack of motivation could indicate chemical imbalance, especially if paired with feelings of sadness or hopelessness, fatigue, or thoughts of suicide. If your lack of motivation is debilitating, you may be depressed. Seek professional help.
3. Self-efficacy and perceived competence are positively related to motivation.
Research indicates that if you believe you can accomplish something, you’re more likely to achieve it than if you doubt yourself. This is a reoccurring theme in motivation literature. Self-efficacy is key.
Practical application: Evaluate your confidence. Do you view yourself as capable? On a scale from 1-10, how confidant are you that you can achieve [insert your goal here]? You won’t maintain the motivation to lose weight if you believe you’ll always be heavy. Self-doubt is a motivation trap. To cultivate self-efficacy, focus on your past accomplishments and successes. Reframe negative thoughts. (Instead of This is impossible, try This is difficult, but manageable.) Increase your self-efficacy by setting – and achieving – one or two easy goals.
4. Having a sense of control leads to greater motivation.
If you believe that life “happens” to you or that you are powerless to circumstances, you have an external locus of control. (This is sometimes known as learned helplessness.) It’s difficult to sustain motivation with this view. We can’t control all the variables in life, but we can control our choices and reactions. We control who and what we allow to negatively impact us. This knowledge is empowering. It allows for motivation and can foster an increased sense of efficacy.
Practical application: List or think about some undesirable aspects of your life (rent, a car accident, a difficult colleague, etc.) Select one item from your list and then write ways you can exercise control. (For example, you can’t control a difficult co-worker, but you control what you say to them, how you respond to them, and so on.) Recognize that your decisions directly impact the quality of your life.
5. Outcome value is related to motivation.
The greater the perceived value of an outcome, the stronger the motivation. If you value living in a tidy home, you will be motivated to clean. For someone who doesn’t mind a mess, a clean house holds little value.
Practical application: You want to save money, but struggle to see the immediate benefits. Create a list of all the ways saving can improve your life, both now and in the future. Consider what’s currently important to you. If it’s spending time with family, link that to saving money. (Extra savings mean you can afford to dine out or take vacations with your family.) By increasing outcome value, you may increase your level of motivation. Apply this principle to all aspects of your life.
6. Goals and deadlines are motivating.
Define your outcome with a measurable goal and place a time limit on it. By defining exactly what you want (I want to lose 10 lbs.) and then giving yourself a deadline (in 3 months), you’re creating a blueprint. Having a goal map makes it easier to stay motivated by providing direction.
Practical application: When you need motivation, first consider the steps required to accomplish your goal. Be as specific as possible. And then create a deadline. (Note: Deadlines can be flexible. If you don’t meet your deadline, it’s easy to give up, leaving you the opposite of confident and effective. Instead, if a deadline isn’t met, push it back a week. Be reasonable. Revise your goal if needed. Remember to be solution-focused.)
7. Money is a motivator.
Researchers discovered that cash is a driving force. Money is a classic example of an extrinsic motivator – and it’s effective. So how can you use this information?
Practical application: There are apps and programs that pay you to stay on track. An example is the Achievement app; you earn points for exercising, drinking water, sleeping, and doing other health-related activities. Once you earn 10,000, you receive $10. Additionally, the weight loss program HealthyWage pays you to lose weight. (Be careful – there’s also a chance you’ll lose money!) If you dread going to work, think about your paycheck. Lastly, to motivate employees, offer small bonuses or other cash incentives linked to performance.
8. Working together on a task enhances motivation.
Working toward a common goal with a partner or a group seems to enhance motivation.
Practical application: This practice can be applied in the workplace or at school. Don’t work on projects alone; find someone who shares your enthusiasm. If you want to start an exercise routine, ask a friend (who also wants to get in shape) to hit the gym with you. It seems we’re able to inspire and motivate each other; when one person’s motivation wanes, the other’s kicks in.
9. The source of motivation changes as we pursue our goals.
There’s something called “promotion” motivation. We’re good at setting goals and feeling motivated. Initially. Then, somewhere along the way, our motivation switches. It becomes “prevention” motivation. For example, the promotion motivation for losing weight may be fitting into a certain pair of jeans. When the jeans fit, the motivation becomes prevention motivation. Prevention motivation is harder to sustain.
To consider: Have a variety of motivational strategies. Recognize that motivation will change as you pursue your goals.
10. Once something becomes a habit, it persists long after motivation is gone.
This may be the most valuable finding of all. With motivation, there are variables: Self-efficacy, deadlines, money, etc. A habit supersedes the variables. There will be times we lack motivation, no matter how effective we feel or how much we value the outcome. If we act out of habit, we don’t have to rely on motivation. Of course, the tricky part is creating a new habit. Habits, which are formed by repetition, reorganize information in your brain so that an action becomes automatic and is no longer tied to a motivational cue.
To consider: Researchers assert it can take anywhere from 15 to 254 days to form a habit. In addition to repetition, you must remove cues that trigger habits you’re trying to quit while adding cues that trigger desired behaviors.
In conclusion, there are many factors related to motivation including self-efficacy, outcome value, and financial incentive. Our motivation changes as we pursue goals, indicating the need for a variety of motivational strategies. We know that dopamine plays an important role and that there are structural regions in the brain responsible for motivation.
A friend of mine recently asked how I motivate myself to go to the gym when I get off work. “It has nothing to do with motivation,” I responded. “I just do it; it’s not optional.”
I’m fully aware I lack motivation. However, I recognize that motivation, while advantageous, is not a prerequisite for success. It’s too fickle; it lacks the staying power of habit and the might of determination.
Don’t rely on motivation to achieve your goals. Instead, invest in the determination it takes to form a habit.
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