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How expectations impact on our lives and how brands can support positive expectations

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Last night I attended a fantastic talk by David Robson,, David is an award-winning science writer specialising in the extremes of the human brain, body and behaviour.

In his most recent book, The Expectation Effect, David looks at the scientific evidence that proves that our expectations deliver huge and real impacts on not only our mental processes but on our behaviours and physiological state. As a strategist, I have a keen interest in behavioural science, and I am aware that many of the tools I use as a strategist are founded on understanding the mind, knowing how we can prime expectations, and setting out to deliver specific thoughts, feeling and actions that connect customers to brands and improve experiences and profits.

The talk, which was part of the Harrogate Festival, was packed with anticipation and delivered as a TED-style talk where David presented some compelling facts and evidence to support just how fundamental our mindset and expectations are in forming the experiences we will have in life.

Some of the interesting areas he touched upon were:

Ageing - People who believe "ageing brings wisdom" live longer, on average over 7 years longer than those who believe ageing is in no way positive.... and this is linked to our thoughts on ageing throughout our life - not at the end of or as we become more senior, in fact from middle age we can predict the experience someone will have in older age by their views of ageing and the expectation they set for this stage of life when they are younger.

Seasonal Priming - The time of year can literally change what we see..... yes... Incredible... In an experiment people were asked to look at the same image at different times of the year. The two groups were primed by thier environment and they interpreted the image in a different way at different times of year...... The findings proved the impact of cultural cues on what we see, and it showed that people picked out different parts of an image at a different time of year, they also viewed the image with different connotations, and different emotions and they relayed that the image told a different story at different times of year - despite the image is no different.

Ingrained beliefs - Once our expectations have been set, i.e - if we have been told that we will see something, or hear something we can actually make this a reality even if it is not.... That is to say, our imagination can create something so strong we believe it actually happened. This to me is incredibly interesting and reinforces the power of suggestion in creating realities that are not true. The evidence David called upon here was multiple - but one experiment he referenced was one where people were asked to listen to white noise, half were told that they might hear Bing Crosby singing and to listen out and point out when they did. The participant's neurological activity was tracked. Of there that were told that they would hear Bing Crosby - 30% claimed that had heard him - despite this not being the case- and even more interestingly the neurological activity was the same as a person who had actually heard him - therefore expectation had altered the reality for these people - they had expected it so much that in their mind they had actually heard something that was not their but their brain had reacted in such a way that it indicated they had in someway heard something that was not there.

David went on to talk about how lucky charms really do improve an athlete’s performance, having a charm or talisman significantly improves performance, additionally that if we reappraising stress as energising and positive we increase our creativity under pressure. And he looked at the diet industry and claimed that the diet industry needs to change because the common mantra of deprivation and the anticipation of deprivation makes us want to eat more, and this is not just in our minds - it is physiological - we release hormones that actually physically make us want to eat more if we believe we are depriving ourselves, this is true regardless of how much we eat....even if we have eaten a large meal without realising it was calorific - because be believe it was low calorie the expectation of deprivation sets of a primal reaction and we are primed to seek out more food. Therefore cultivating an indulgent attitude to food helps you lose weight.

Welcome to The Expectation Effect.......Of course, we can’t just think ourselves thinner, happier or fitter, but David's book suggests we can reframe many different facets of our life, and in so doing start real psychological, physiological and behavioural change.

A super interesting evening - I have bought the book and look forward to learning more and applying the learnings to my life and the work I do in strategy.

If you want to know more about David's work here is a short video that introduces his key premises:

A review by the Guardian of his book:

If you are interested in the book you can buy it here:

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