A new study from Lund University reveals that our brains forget things on purpose. Essentially, the researchers discovered that our brains not only have learning mechanisms, but also forgetting mechanisms, and each is important to our thinking. This news is great for forgetful types! We thought it was because we were daft, but it turns out, forgetting is science, not stupidity.
The research group in Sweden found a mechanism at the cellular level that shows our brains are wired to forget “unnecessary” learning. Their findings were published in an international journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America). To summarize: when our brain has mastered a concept, there is a natural, built-in mechanism that tells the learning part of our brain to delete the unnecessary association pathways and step off, relax, and shut it.
To read more of the actual study, click here.
Customers do the same thing as the participants in the Swedish study. You can train them to behave a certain way at a moment in your experience, such as choosing the automatic option right at the beginning of the call center interaction or signing up for a automatic payments and estatements. Once they learn how to do it (or set it up), they forget why they learned it or even what is prompting them to do it. They just do it automatically and conserve energy associated with learning to do it that way.
The question is why is this necessary? It has to do with evolution. Our brain uses a lot of energy, and just like a car, there is only so much energy in the tank. In the days of our ancestors, it was harder to fill the tank (and dodge the T-Rex or saber-toothed tigers at the water hole). So to facilitate the propagation of the species, our brain evolved to find ways to conserve energy—and avoid that treacherous water hole as much as possible.
Of course, these days the T-Rex and Saber-toothed tigers are characters in kids’ movies instead of real threats. Plus, we can fill our tank pretty easily—sometimes at all you can eat buffets. However, we still have the mechanisms for conserving energy built into our highly evolved brains.
The idea that the brain conserves energy is one of the important concepts that is critical to understanding behavioral economics. Behavioral Economics is the study of how people’s behavior drives their economic decisions (and the related economic consequences because of these decisions for the larger market). It takes a close look at the emotional, psychological, and cognitive factors that influence our decision-making in buying situations.
And it should come as no surprise to anyone that our brain’s need to conserve energy plays an important role in economic decisions. Have you ever…
… perused the wine list and chose the second least expensive bottle because it’s not the cheapest?
… bothered to read the volume of the drinks before you chose the medium size automatically?
… paid more to have a certain brand of electronics just because it was that brand when other brands have the same (and sometimes better) performance?
Understanding the concepts put forth by Behavioral Economics is an important part of improving Customer Experiences. We all conserve energy on thinking when we can. And it’s natural, scientific even.
Unfortunately, researchers have yet to prove that everything we forget is scientific. So the fact that you don’t remember how to do a quadratic equation, the username or password to your long-abandoned DropBox account or your mother-in-law’s birthday is still only explained by foolishness. Unless you can make a case these are unnecessary learnings…a slippery slope on the last one, to say the least.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of five bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter & Periscope @ColinShaw_CX