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The cognitive timeline, part 1: Forming impressions

March 12, 2015 0 Comments

impression-sunrise-monet“Common sense” tells the average non-scientist that our eyes and ears act like video recorders, creating an accurate recording of the world around us that we then access through memory when and where we need to. The feeling we all have in our conscious minds is that we pretty accurately perceive everything in the world around us, directly and objectively.

But modern brain science tells a different story: People’s impressions of the world are largely created by processes they aren’t aware of, and are very different from the physical signals that enter their sensory organs. For example, the visual images that hit the back of the human eye are actually upside down, but our brains automatically turn them right side up so we can see the world in the most advantageous orientation. Experimenters have put upside-down glasses on people to test this capability, and sure enough, after a couple hours, the brain flips the visual image back to right side up. And when the glasses are taken off, it flips the image back again.


Our nonconscious perceptual processes not only intervene in the formation of impressions, but also fill in a lot of details that we don’t actually perceive directly. For example, your eyes are able to focus on only a very small area, about the size of a thumbnail if you extend your arm out in front of you. But your impression is that your full field of vision is clear and in focus. You create this impression by constantly, automatically, and extremely rapidly moving your focus around the full visual field. Your brain then assembles all these micro impressions into a single, stable picture that you see as a full, clear image. And even that impression includes a lot of automatic “filling in,” because you don’t have time to scan the whole field as fast as the field can change.

Impression formation is extremely important to neuromarketing. If our impressions of the world are largely created in our brains, and marketers want to build impressions that attract and influence our brains, then marketers naturally want to know what factors influence that creation process. When we look at print ads in a magazine or billboards along the highway, what do we actually see? What draws our attention, and what are we likely to remember? New neuromarketing technologies and tools can answer these questions in new ways, without asking people directly.

N4D-cover -120pxThis post is excerpted, with minor edits, from Neuromarketing for Dummies, Chapter 2, “What We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then.”

Filed in: Science • Tags: , , ,

About the Author:

Steve is a writer, speaker, researcher, and marketing consultant. He is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019), a study of persuasion and influence in marketing theory and practice, and co-author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013), a comprehensive overview of neuromarketing science, applications, methodologies, and ethics. He is Managing Partner at Intuitive Consumer Insights, where he focuses on marketing education and consulting.

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