Baroness Susan Greenfield is a scientist, author and broadcaster with a special interest in how technology impacts our personalities by affecting our neurochemistry. She delivered an incredibly fascinating and engaging talk that made a brilliant link between her world of neuroscience and our world of brands and communications.
She gave us some great insight into the following areas.
A definition of thinking.
“Thinking is movement confined to the brain”
Emotions happen in response to something - we laugh, we cry, get angry at something. But our thoughts are linear, there are sequences of steps that get us from A-B and there is a narrative that runs through and connects our thinking.
Creating space in our lives to think is of crucial importance because it allows us to combine and connect ideas in new ways. This reveals new possibilities, concepts, solutions, inventions and applications.
Technology is changing the way we think and feel.
All of us are having experiences that will leave their mark on the brain. Our experiences make us unique. Our thoughts, indeed, everything we do has an impact on the brain and our brain is constantly adapting to the environments we expose it to.
The environment of the screen – computers, iPads, smartphones - are having greater influence on our brains and they offer a parallel universe in a way that no other technologies have done before. Our experiences and interactions with these technologies are leaving their mark on the brain, changing the way we think and feel. Some of the issues Susan challenged us to consider include:
- Excessive gaming, where “the thrill of the taste trumps the consequences”
Excessive gaming releases the chemical Dopamine, which leads to addition, reward – and arousal. Dopamine inhibits the pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls our ability to think, to express our personalities, to make decisions and moderate our behaviour. In a nutshell, when the prefrontal cortex is inhibited – “the thrill of the taste trumps the consequences”. We let ourselves go, we live in the moment, we don’t think about the potential consequences of our behavior.
- The effect of social media on our ability to be real
As we know, perception is everything, especially in the world of social media. In terms of perception we all have an ideal self. We all want the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect love life, the perfect travel experiences, and we aspire to be like those who we find the most successful. As social media continues to consume our time and energy the concept of presenting our ideal self over our real self has become more and more prevalent. The real self isn’t being presented because doing so makes us vulnerable. But if all we ever present to the world is our ideal self we hide those stories that make us truly relevant, human and interesting. The question of how much we share in social media is also important because if we share too much we run the risk of losing our secret selves. This is a tricky area for some.
In addition to the issue of real vs. ideal in social media, there is also the issue of the extent to which social media impacts our ability to form real connections. If all we ever do is spend our time tweeting, snap chatting and Facebook messaging we run the risk of not developing those skills that can only come from human contact and face- to- face communication. These skills include, empathy and the ability to connect emotionally with one another.
Finally, Susan talked about the mindset of the future and how brands can engage with it.
The mind of the future…
Has a short attention span
Is great at manipulating icons, not ideas
Puts a premium on sensation
Needs constant feedback
Great at information, not knowledge
How can brands engage with it?
Tapping into senses (vision, touch, taste etc.) can tell a more powerful narrative that, like the pebble analogy, creates deeper and more lasting connections between neurons in the brain. The communications for facemask for Sanctuary center on touch, while that for Hibiscus references touch, smell, sound, taste and colour as well as ritual. Like the famous Betty Crocker cake mix where asking housewives to add an egg saw sales increase, the Hibiscus brand asks women to add yoghurt and honey – it asks them to add a sense of self.
Stories and narrative can help brands create a sense of self in this age of technology.