Tag Archives: senses

Apple’s Implementation of the Duration-of-Exposure Effect: Screens at 70Ëš

Hours after writing about the duration-of-exposure effect (whereby merely touching an unowned object increases our attachment to it and how much we value it), a post came into my feed reader pointing out how Apple Inc. take advantage of this effect in their “painstakingly calibrated” stores.

Carmine Gallo, providing a glimpse into his upcoming book, The Apple Experience, explains how every aspect of an Apple Store is designed to foster “multisensory ownership experiences”. This on the (very specific) tilt of laptop screens (from another great article on the topic):

The notebook computers displayed on the store’s tabletops and counters are set out, each day, to exactly the same angle. That angle being, precisely, 70 degrees: not as rigid as a table-perpendicular 90 degrees, but open enough — and, also, closed enough — for screens’ content to remain visible and inviting to would-be typers and tinkerers.

The point […] is to get people to touch the devices. “The main reason notebook computers screens are slightly angled is to encourage customers to adjust the screen to their ideal viewing angle,” [Gallo] says — “in other words, to touch the computer.”

A tactile experience with an Apple product begets loyalty to Apple products, the thinking goes — which means that the store exists to imprint a brand impression on visitors even more than it exists to extract money from them. “The ownership experience is more important than a sale,” Gallo notes. Which means that the store — and every single detail creating the experience of it — are optimized for customers’ personal indulgence. Apple wants you to touch stuff, to play with it, to make it your own. Its notebook computers are tilted at just the right angle to beckon you to their screens — and, more importantly, to their keyboards.

When Apple do it right, they do it perfectly.

via Kottke

Increasing Attachment and Valuation Through Touch

The endowment effect is old news: the amount that we value an object increases once we take ownership of it. The ‘extended version’ shows that the impact of the endowment effect increases with time: our valuation of an object increases more and more as the amount of time that we own it also increases. This is known as the length-of-ownership effect.

A recent study published in the journal Judgement and Decision Making1 has taken an even deeper look at this effect: studying how touching an object increases both our attachment to that object and how much we value it… even if we don’t own it (also in pdf). Here are the key findings of this ‘pre-ownership exposure study’:

  • Touching an object will increase our attachment to it and valuation of it, whether we own it or not.
  • The longer we touch or handle an un-owned object, the greater we will value it and feel attached to it.
  • Simply thinking about an un-owned object increases our valuation of it and how much we feel attached to it.

Related findings, cited in this article:

  • If an object is being sold at auction, the amount that we value the object will increase as the length of the auction increases.
  • Owning a coupon for an object increases our emotional attachment to that object.
  • Making an item the “focus of a comparison” increases its attractiveness and the probability that it would later be selected. We will also feel more attached to the item and will value it higher.

via @stevesilberman and Lifehacker (suggesting that this duration-of-exposure effect’ is an explanation for why we have cluttered homes.)

1 What, you’re not reading Judgement and Decision Making? You should; it’s bimonthly and open access.

The Minds of Dogs and How Pointing Evolved

Recent research suggests that domestic dogs seem capable of displaying a rudimentary “theory of mind” — a very human characteristic whereby you are able to attribute mental states to others that do not necessarily coincide with your own (in a nutshell). Stray domestic dogs, meanwhile, do not display this trait, suggesting that such mental attributes are developed through close contact with humans. That’s interesting, but not the main reason I’m sharing this information with you.

This cognitive difference between stray domestic dogs and their housebound brethren was uncovered by testing whether or not they understood the very human action of pointing (y’know, with your index finger). What struck me most in this discussion was this brief theory of how the action of pointing evolved:

Go ahead, let your wrist go limp and look at your hand from the side, or if you’re too insecure in your own sexuality, just picture Adam’s limp wrist at the moment of creation in Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. See how even in this relaxed state the index finger is slightly extended? By contrast, when chimps do this […] their index finger falls naturally in line with their other fingers. Povinelli and Davis reason that this subtle evolutionary change in the morphology of our hands, which occurred after humans and chimpanzees last shared a common ancestor five million to seven million years ago, is at least partially responsible for the fact that human pointing with the index finger is so culturally ubiquitous today.

The argument goes something like this. When young infants begin reaching for objects just out of their range, adults are most likely to respond to those reaching attempts and to retrieve the item for the baby when the latter’s index finger is more prominently extended. That is to say, initially, the adult mistakenly reads into the child’s reaching attempt as a communicative gesture on the part of the child. Over time, this dynamic between the child and adult serves to further “pull out” the index finger because the child implicitly learns the behavioral association, so that it slowly becomes a genuine pointing gesture.

Our Amazing Senses

As neuroscientist Bradley Voytek points out, “we’re used to thinking of our senses as being pretty shite”, and this is mostly thanks to the plethora of animals that can see, hear, smell and taste far better than we can. “We can’t see as well as eagles, we can’t hear as well as bats, and we can’t smell as well as dogs”, he concludes… and that seems to be the consensus on every nature documentary I’ve ever watched.

However our brain is a magnificent construction (and our senses are equally as wondrous), and so Voytek tries to reverse this idea by explaining just how sensitive and amazing our senses really are:

It turns out that humans can, in fact, detect as few as 2 photons entering the retina. Two. As in, one-plus-one. It is often said that, under ideal conditions, a young, healthy person can see a candle flame from 30 miles away. That’s like being able to see a candle in Times Square from Stamford, Connecticut. Or seeing a candle in Candlestick Park from Napa Valley.*

Similarly, it appears that the limits to our threshold of hearing may actually be Brownian motion. That means that we can almost hear the random movements of atoms.

We can also smell as few as 30 molecules of certain substances. […]

These facts suggest that we all have some level of what we’d normally think of as “super human” sensory abilities already.

But what the hell? If I can supposedly see a candle from 30 miles away, why do I still crack my frakkin’ shin on the coffee table when it’s only slightly dark in my living room?

It may not surprise you to hear that the answer to that question is attention.

* For the Europeans among you, that’s more than a fifth longer than the Channel Tunnel‘s underwater section (or Hyde Park to Stansted Airport for the Londoners).

How Sounds and Words Affect Taste

Background noises greatly affect how we taste food. I wrote about this earlier in the year — pointing out that this is the probable cause of bland in-flight meals — but how else can background noise affect our perception of taste, and can our non-gustatory senses affect how we taste, too?

To test this, molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal and professor Charles Spence conducted a fascinating experiment with some ‘bacon and egg’ ice cream and some varied soundtracks. The full experiment is described in a short extract from the book Art and the Senses that also neatly summarises the various ways that our taste perception can be altered by our other senses:

The disambiguation of the flavour of a food dish can be achieved by a number of means: either visually, by changing the colour of the food, verbally by means of labelling, by presenting pictures or other cues on the packaging, and/or by the presentation of auditory cues. […] Furthermore, even saying the word ‘cinnamon’ has been shown to activate the olfactory cortex (i.e. the part of the brain that processes smells). […] Playing the sizzling bacon soundtrack at the ‘Art and the Senses’ conference may therefore have influenced the audience’s perception of the bacon flavour in the ice cream simply by making them think of bacon. […] It is at present an open question as to whether simply writing the word bacon on the screen in the front of the auditorium would have had the same effect.

Is there a name for this experience? The best I can come up with is ‘gustatory crossmodality‘, but that sounds far too exciting (and is most likely incorrect). I’m hoping for a pithy, Gladwell-esque ‘Something effect’.

via @mocost