Try to remember the first time you tried beer, chili pepper or cigarette – if you haven’t tried any of those in your life, good for you but you can keep reading. Can you recall your reaction? Did you like it? I doubt it.
Our body is designed to reject substances like alcohol, capsaicin or nicotine. Your instinctive reaction would most probably be to try and take it out of your body. However, little by little, exposure by exposure, we learn to accept them. We see other people around us enjoying them, we try once again and end up “imposing” ourselves to liking them.
This implicit social pressure is called “cognitive dissonance” in psychology. In order to avoid the inconsistency of being in a group which we don’t share common characteristics with, we try to behave accordingly and we are willing to change our attitudes so that they match our behaviours. This process occurs gradually so we don’t realise it.
If you are like me, you most probably grew up professionally, believing that changing consumer attitudes about your product or service is the first step to make him/her select it. In other words, that certain attitudes lead to certain behaviours. However, this hypothesis has never been confirmed. On the contrary, recent evidence from neuroscience shows that we first act based on our instincts and then post-rationalise our motives and attitudes so that they match our actions.
Some companies, even today, focus on changing consumer attitudes, hoping that this will eventually lead to a behavioural change on their favour. I will try to explain how “overoptimistic” this may be, with a story. During a speed dating experiment (a process where participants sit in pairs for a limited time in order to meet as many people as possible and at the end select the ones they want to meet again) researchers asked from female participants to rank their criteria at the beginning. At the end, along with with their preferences (who they wanted to meet again), researchers asked women to evaluate all male participants across their criteria. And guess what! Although in theory the majority was looking for someone “clever”, “honest” whom they would share “common interests”, they ended up preferring someone “handsome” with a “sense of humour”.
This proves that our behaviour is driven by our instincts and emotions that are usually beyond our conscious awareness. We first do something and then think about why we did it. Since most of the times behaviour happens first, our attitudes will have to adjust to match it.