Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Temptation of Curiosity

As I was learning the basic principles of graphic design and marketing, it became very apparent from early on that success in these fields depends heavily upon how well they can play upon the natural curiosity of their audience.  In essence, using what has been learned from decades of psychological studies, advertising manipulates the public by taking advantage of their natural curiosity. 

For instance, television programming takes advantage of our curious natures to keep us watching shows (and more importantly, their sponsors' advertisements) by subtly hooking us at the beginning, then building up to a question for which we absolutely must know the answer by the end. 

Who turns off Jeopardy after watching all the way up until just before the Final Question?  And remember The Dating Game?  The entire show led up to the question of which date the contestant would choose and it hooked viewers into watching right up to the very end when that choice was revealed. 

By nature, we are all curious creatures and this innate curiosity can serve us well as when it leads us to learn new things or it can be our own worst enemy as when we are lured into doing something which we shouldn't. 

Either way, it has been proven that, at least in songbirds (and likely in humans as well), there is a genetic predisposition to be curious and that this biological trait is linked to dopamine which is one of the pleasure-inducing chemicals in the brain.  In other words, we are wired to be "rewarded" for indulging our curiosity.

So the next time that you find yourself wondering what is in that wrapped present beneath the Christmas tree or who is going to win the NBA Championship game that is tied up to the last few minutes of play, you can rest assured that your biological heritage will be strong at work.