Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Thinking too fast

We think at different speeds, if we have to scan a list of addresses to find a house number in a hurry, our thoughts move a little faster than when we are sitting back admiring a nice view.

This then begs the question, what bearing has this on how we think? Emily Pronin, a psychology professor at Princeton University, has co written an article with Jesse J. Chandler which goes into this in more detail.

Previous work by Pronin suggested the speed at which we think can be altered and thinking fast puts us into a positive mood. In the article mentioned above however, she focused on whether it makes us more risky.

Pronin and Chandler ran two experiments to investigate this. In the first experiment they had people reading statements on a computer screen, one group at a slow pace and one at a quicker pace. Participants in each group then played a game where they blew up a virtual balloon, the bigger they could make the balloon, the bigger the reward, however if the balloon burst they got nothing.

Sounds like the recent property crash. Pronin and Chandler noticed that people who were in the group that read fast paced statements took more risks and popped more balloons by pushing the blowing up of balloons too far. Those who read at a slower pace were more cautious in their inflating.

In the second experiment people watched video games at different speeds and then filled out a questionnaire on how likely they were to engage in types of risk taking behaviour (eg having unprotected sex, leaving work assignments to the last minute). Again those whose thoughts had to keep up with the faster paced material, were more willing to take on risk.

This is relevant to the work place as the type of activity Pronin and Chandler used to speed up peoples thoughts is all around us as we go about our jobs.

Traders may see latest stock prices scrolling quickly across the bottom of their screens, we may use computer applications where we have to scroll over and back across windows for information and then read it quickly in order to make a call or fill in some other screen.

All these type of actions can speed up our thoughts and maybe make us a bit more likely to take on risks when we make the business call or decide to buy at the share price whizzing past.If you have call centre staff and they have to read incoming calls quickly on a ticker type feed, they may be a bit more risky (less secure) when authenticating or validating customers when they call in.

Quickly scrolling at speed up and down your Facebook or Twitter page may make you less discerning when putting in a risky or sarcastic comment.

Alternatively if you want a customer to buy something they may perceive as risky or be less risk adverse in their attitude toward you, perhaps speed up their thought process by having the type of content used by Pronin and Chandler in your sales presentation, pitch or website. If you design advertisements, then include some fast paced material in your web, TV or radio ads if you think people may be cautious in their spending.

If you want your staff to be risk adverse and take fewer chances, then look at their work environment. If there is something they use frequently that could speed up their thought process, either mitigate against it with greater risk monitoring or change their environment to make it all a bit more relaxed.

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