Photo by Lee Hinshaw
The tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.
I recently read an article by Michael Shermer where he coined the term Patternicity. The article is basically about why people see faces in nature, interpret window stains as human figures, hear voices in random sounds, find conspiracies in the daily news, see faces on Mars, the Virgin Mary on the side of a building, or other such things that you read about or experience almost daily.
Evolution gave us this ability. Back in the day, when we were walking around with clubs and wearing bear skins, the guy that didn’t instantly recognize the pattern of a tiger, bear, or other such large carnivore moving in the bushes was soon lunch, breakfast, or dinner for said carnivore. So over a few thousand years, we humans became pretty good at Patternicity. We benefited greatly, and survived more often, from being a little overcautious and having this pattern recognition ability alert us a little too often with false alerts when the bear was not in the bushs, than having it not go off when the bear was actually in the bushes.
The downside to this ability is that the circuitry is hardwired into our brains and continues to analyze all the various inputs (sight, sound, touch, smell, etc.) to find patterns. So no, that’s not really the Mona Lisa on your breakfast toast, it just looks like it.
Patternicity is not just for visual inputs; it works for all kinds of events and experiences. According to Shermer – “I argue that our brains are belief engines: evolved pattern-recognition machines that connect the dots and create meaning out of the patterns that we think we see in nature. Sometimes A really is connected to B; sometimes it is not.”
Our brains put things together faster than we can actually think about the events around us. Otherwise we would have all been eaten and would not have survived as a species. The next time you jump out of bed when a spider crawls up on top of your pillow, remind yourself that you didn’t stop to think, you just grabbed something and beat the stuffing out of your pillow while your spouse looked at you like you’d gone nuts!
It’s not only fear based either. I can now explain to my wife why I occasionally (very, very rarely) turn my head towards an attractive female: millions of years of evolution that favored natural selection of causal associations are essential to survival and reproduction of the human species. Ok, so end the end its back to the fear based thing as she whacks me over the head!
So, you may be saying to yourself, what exactly does this have to do with marketing and Internet Business. To which I am going to say: everything!
Even my son, who is almost four years old, gets it. He was riding with me tonight and asked me if I saw a sign (billboard) about a truck. I did not, but he then proceeded to ask me if everyone looked as signs with red on them. So there it is: put the right patterns in your advertising materials and you have people latterly stopping in their tracks to look, or put the wrong patterns and no one even reads a word of it.
But how do you know what works and what doesn’t? Some of it is research and experience, and some of it is testing. But once you understand the fact that when someone looks at your sales page, there’s a microsecond of time in which their brain analyzes the page for patterns, you’re a light year ahead of someone who doesn’t. If the pattern recognition returned a favorable response, they’ll start to read it. Even once they start to read it, the pattern recognition engine is running in the background, it says, “this is good”, “this is B.S”, “I need this”, or “turn the page”. If your copy has long paragraphs it says “skip to the next paragraph, I easily bored and nothing here is important”.
Until next time,