The information overexposure and the decision making process

The information overexposure and the decision making process

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Posted: January 7, 2013
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You have certainly found yourself facing the difficulty of making a choice. As a rational agent, you had in mind to get informed on your options. Whether you were buying a car, changing your perfume, choosing a holiday destination or searching for a house to rent, you’ve experienced how the pile of information hampers the decision-making process. Even choosing the subject of this article was delayed due to the abundant neuro-marketing news feed, relevant for understanding consumers’ behavior.


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Cu siguranta v-ati aflat de multe ori in situatia de a lua o decizie si, ca orice agent rational, v-ati propus mai intai sa va documentati cu privire la posibilitatile care vi se ofera. Fie ca ati fost in situatia sa achizitionati o masina, sa va schimbati parfumul, sa alegeti o destinatie de vacanta sau poate o noua casa de inchiriat, ati descoperit ca abundenta de informatii si oferte in domeniul respectiv va ingreuneaza cu mult procesul de luare a deciziilor. Inclusiv alegerea acestui subiect de articol a fost amanata si ingreunata din cauza fluxului de stiri din domeniul neurostiintelor, relevante din perspectiva intelegerii comportamentului consumatorului.Alvin Toefler is the first to theorize this issue in his book, “Future Shock”. The author argues that the brain has a limited capacity of processing and digesting information. Moreover, information overexposure has negative effects: it can hinder the cognitive and decision making processes; it can increase the risk of physical and mental disorders. According to Toefler, these are caused by what he calls “the future shock syndrome”. The most recent psychological and neuro-studies confirm his hypothesis.

The informational stress


The digital revolution made it possible for all information and knowledge-related dreams to come true. Moreover, mass communication mediums granted instant access to worldwide news feeds. However, instead of improving the decision making process, this informational tsunami did the reverse: it held back, diverted or even blocked the mind and the cognitive processes related to decision-making. More and more often, psychologists are making the diagnosis of “Information Fatigue Syndrome” or “informational stress”. The disease causes higher levels of cortisol, confusion and frustration.

Traditionally, it was believed that the difference between the available information (used to make a decision) and the needed information (which was poorer than needed) was the cause of the incertitude. Nowadays, it is the other way round: there is too much information available, which the brain must assess before making a decision; paradoxically, this situation triggers the same type of confusion as the lack of information. Specialized literature is now presenting the disadvantages of information overexposure throughout the thinking and decision-making processes. Youngsters are the most exposed to this phenomenon. In a recent post, David Rosenstein, neuro-researcher and CEO for the neuromarketing agency Neural Sense, argued that:
On the one hand, advertisements or product packagings display too much information. On the other, the consumer has to choose among too many products. These two facts have a similar effect on the consumer. The more information available, the more limited his ability to make a decision.

Psychology specialists call this syndrome “cognitive overload”. A research led by Takao Sasaki, professor at the School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, and published in 2011 in the “Journal of Economic Psychology”, put it:
During the decision making process, consumers assimilate only a small part of all the information available, relying on shortcuts and simpler strategies.  Such a technique is the simplification of the decision-making process, often called “social learning.

The herd effect


Online shopping experiments that test consumers’ exposure to an informational overload show that too much information determines the subject to choose the most popular product. Moreover, when unaware of a product’s popularity, the subjects that were exposed to a moderate volume of information were more likely to make a decision based on popularity criteria than the ones exposed to a large, but not overwhelming volume of information.

Professor Takao Sasaki points out that:
This phenomenon suggests that, when the information is easy to digest, consumers make similar choices because they have similar preferences. However, previous studies showed that too much information leads to bad decisions.

A research conducted by a team of experts led by the Columbia University professor Jie Gao and published in 2012 in ScienceDirect shows that the unconscious cognitive processes are the ones helping us to deal with a large volume of information and have an essential role in the decision-making process.
The unconscious thinking is the one that dictates the relationship between the quality of information and consumers’ satisfaction related to online shopping decisions; that is why it deserves special attention when creating the design of online shops.

 How much is too much?


Product information for those products that are offering an experience (such as clothes, movies or music) is often subjective and evasive, leading to artificial perceptions and confusion, being hard to evaluate and choose from. It is extremely important that marketing specialists understand information processing mechanisms so that they can make they communication more efficient. Neuro techniques such as EEG and eye-tracking glasses offer an authentic perspective on which elements on a webpage draw consumers’ attention. Thus, they can provide practical solutions for the management of information in order to enable the client to make a decision as soon as possible.

There are no guidelines on how much information you should provide: if you are selling clothes, then practical information such as material, provenience and cleaning tips might be useful. Long and poetic texts will bore and confuse the consumers. If you are marketing medical/cosmetics innovative products, then you should provide plenty of explanations and recommendations. The negative effects of a large volume of information can be avoided by the smart use of text and image and by a display that prevents the page from looking too loaded or dull. These are small tricks that help you make consumers’ unconscious thinking process a more efficient one. This way, you enable clients to make their best buying decisions and thus turn them into loyal customers.Alvin Toefler este primul care a teoretizat aceasta problema in cartea sa “Socul viitorului”, in care subliniaza capacitatea limitata a creierului de a asimila si procesa informatia si efectele secundare ale supraexpunerii la informatie, printre care se numara ingreunarea proceselor cognitive si a celor de luare a deciziilor sau chiar aparitia unor tulburari fizice si mentale pe care le numeste “sindromul socului viitorului”. Cele mai recente studii psihologice si neuro ii confirma ipoteza.

Stresul informational


Revolutia digitala a indeplinit toate visele umanitatii legate de informatie si cunoastere, precum si accesul, in timp real, la fluxul de stiri din intreaga lume, cu ajutorul mijloacelor de comunicare in masa. Insa, in loc sa ne creasca nivelul de eficienta in luarea deciziilor, acest tzunami informational are efecte contrare, acelea de a ingreuna, devia sau chiar bloca mintea si procesele cognitive asociate cu luarea deciziilor. Psihologii pun din ce in ce mai frecvent diagnosticul “Information Fatigue Syndrome” sau “stres informational”, manifestat prin cresterea nivelului de cortizol, stare de confuzie si frustrare.

In mod traditional, incertitudinea era asociata cu o discrepanta intre informatia disponibila (pentru luarea deciziei) si informatia de care era nevoie, in sensul ca aceasta era insuficienta. In prezent acest raport s-a inversat, ducand, in mod ironic, la un tip asemanator de confuzie: prea multa informatie disponibila ce trebuie analizata inaintea luarii deciziei respective. Literatura de specialitate vorbeste azi despre dezavantajele supraexpunerii informationale in procesele de gandire si luare a deciziilor, mai ales la tineri, principalele victime ale acestui sindrom. “Folosirea unei cantitati prea mari de informatii in reclame sau ambalajele de produs are acelasi efect asupra consumatorului ca si oferirea unei palete prea largi de optiuni in alegerea unui produs. Cu cat consumatorul este expus la mai multa informatie, cu atat mai limitata va fi capacitatea sa de luare a deciziilor, si il poate opri sa ia decizia respectiva”, scrie Davod Rosenstein, neurocercetator si CEO al agentiei de neuromarketing, Neural Sense, intr-un post recent.

Specialistii in psihologie numesc acest sindrom “suprasolicitare cognitiva”, subliniind faptul ca “in cadrul procesului de luare a deciziilor, consumatorii asimileaza intr-o mica masura informatia disponibila, bazandu-se adesea pe scurtaturi si strategii mai simple. O astfel de strategie o reprezinta simplificarea procesului decizional, adesea numita “invatare sociala”, in care consumatorul se bazeaza pe alegerile celorlalti, arata un studiu condus de Takao Sasaki, profesor la School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University si publicat intr-un numar din 2011 al revistei “Journal of Economic Psychology”.

Efectul de turma


In experimentele bazate pe simulari de online shopping legate de expunerea consumatorului la o cantitate prea mare de informatie, s-a constatat faptul ca prea multa informatie ii determina pe subiecti sa ia alegeri bazate pe criteriul popularitatii (aleg cel mai cumparat produs). Mai mult decat atat, in lipsa informatiei cu privire la popularitatea unui produs, participantii expusi la o cantitate moderata de informatie erau mai inclinati sa se bazeze pe criterii de popularitate comparativ cu cei expusi la o cantitate mai mare, dar nu coplesitoare, de informatii. “Acest fapt sugereaza ca, la nivele de informatie usor de asimilat pentru consumatori, acestia ajung sa faca alegeri asemanatoare pentru ca au preferinte asemanatoare. Studiile anterioare au demonstrat insa ca prea multa informatie duce la alegeri mai putin benefice”, subliniaza profesorul Takao Sasaki.

Rezultatele unui studiu realizat de o echipa de cercetatori condusa de Jie Gao, profesor la Columbia University si publicat in 2012 de revista ScienceDirect arata faptul ca procesele cognitive inconstiente sunt cele care ne ajuta sa facem fata unei cantitati mari de infromatie si au un rol esential in luarea deciziilor. “Gandirea inconstienta este cea care modereza relatia dintre calitatea informatiei si satisfactia consumatorului in ceea ce priveste decizia pe care a luat-o in situatii de cumparaturi online, si merita o atentie speciala in crearea design-ului magazinelor online”, se arata in studiu.

Cat de mult este prea mult?


Produsele care tin de experienta precum hainele, filmele sau muzica sunt de cele mai multe ori descrise in termeni extrem de subiectivi si evazivi, astfel incat creaza perceptii artificiale si confuzie, fiind dificil de evaluat si ales dintre altele asemenea. Este extrem de important pentru specialistii in marketing sa inteleaga mecanismele de procesare a informatiei astfel incat sa isi poata eficientiza comunicarea. Tehnicile de cercetare neuro ce folosesc EEG si ochelari cu functie de Eye Tracking ofera o perspectiva autentica asupra felului in care atentia consumatorului este distribuita pe o pagina de magazin online, oferind solutii practice de managementul informatiei astfel incat sa fie cat mai simplu pentru cumparator sa ia o decizie corecta in timp cat mai scurt.

La nivel cantitativ nu exista retete in ceea ce priveste utilizarea informatiei in descrierea produselor si serviciilor: daca vindeti haine, informatii practice precum tipul de material folosit, tara de provenienta sau sfaturi pentru o ingrijire optima a produsului respectiv sunt bine venite. Textele lungi si poetice despre cum puteti asorta rochia, la ce tip de eveniment se poate purta etc nu vor face decat sa plictiseasca si sa creeze confuzie in mintea consumatorului. Daca vindeti insa proceduri medicale/cosmetice inovatoare, aveti nevoie sa prezentati o gama larga de explicatii si recomandari. Efectele negative ale unei mari cantitati de informatii pot fi usor deturnate prin imbinarea oprima intre text si imagine, felul in care este dispusa informatia in pagina fara a o face sa arate incarcata sau plictisitoare, paragrafarea textelor etc. sunt mici trucuri ce va pot ajuta sa eficientizati procesul de gandire inconstienta a consumatorilor pentru a-i ajuta sa ia cele mai bune decizii de achizitii si de a ramane in continuare clienti fericiti ai magazinului online.

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