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Know-how: How a stone age brain, decision-making and game sales are all tied in one or Why I’m buying unneeded stuff?

Know-how: How a Stone age Brain, Decision-Making and Game Sales are all tied in one or Why i'm buying unneeded stuff?A lot of game companies have summer sales right now and some keep sending you their offers all over the year, like Lord of the Rings Online keeps sending me those messages about a “new” sale of skill books or something similar, over and over. As a “victim” of the latest sale on Steam i assume that any of you could have bought stuff because of some sale letters you got in the past. Maybe even when it turned out to be not the best idea to spent any money – when you gave it a thought some time after paying, that’s it. Some people even buy a lot of stuff for “free to play” games and then count pennies until their next salary. So, why is this happening? And it’s not only about the game companies – ever had any acquaintance who spent money on “earn money from home” or “generate pin-point traffic” scams? Scammers and salespeople know a special thing about your brain and they know how to use it to make you pay before you even think. And here is how it works.

To understand the inner workings of things we must first find out about the basics, the fundamental stuff, before we proceed any further. There are techniques used in advertising to affect people’s consciousness and lead them to make a sale, but the most basic and fundamental thing here is not the techniques, but our own brains. Because, if our brains didn’t worked the way they do, no technique would be effective. And if you’ll be aware of the techniques but not of your own reaction, you still will be vulnerable to them. So, we’ll begin with the basics – we’ll look into our brains. And what kind of special stuff is hidden inside of them?

Our Stone Age brains

Stone Age - our brains bever changed since tben.When you’re making a decision about something it’s your brain’s work to determine if you need to make it and what will happen if you either proceed doing something or just stop right there. It’s called “making a decision”, and if you need to buy something, you first have to make that decision, right? There are different parts responsible for different actions, decisions included, but, as some scientists determined our brain haven’t changed at least in last 50,000 years – which means it’s nowhere near having anything to respond to the rapid changes we humans saw in last 100 of years. Which in turn means, that we have no special part of the brain to handle the financial decisions for us – our brain is just not wired for this exact task, so it has to adapt and use what it has at hand. How does it affects anything?

Let’s assume you’re an ancient human living somewhere in African savanna, and you see an opportunity – a tree heavy with fruits. In this case, the best decision would be to grab as much as you can and as fast as possible, before something comes to eat you or another human steals the fruits from you. That’s a “grab and run” strategy, so to say, and the decision would be based on fear and greed, with no rational thinking involved. But you’re no ancient African inhabitant, and the opportunity you see is not the tree with fruits but a Steam sale. The thing is, there is no difference!

Your brain would not respond any differently in case of both situations i described here. Every one of us have a very ancient systems engraved into us, they helped countless generations to survive, but now they’re getting in the way of making an informed decision you’ll need in order to control your financial relations with outer world. I’m speaking about The Danger and The Reward systems here.

The System Shock

The Danger System works when your survival is at stake. I will not bore you with the physical details of which parts of the brain both systems affect (you can happily Google it if you’re curious), we just need to know what is the outcome of them working. The Danger system activates when feel a threat to our survival and it affects our whole body – ever felt your hands getting wet or shaking when you was going to answer a question as a student, or your hearth racing when you tried to talk to an attractive girl/boy? That’s it, the Danger system at work. It’s not aware you’re not going to be eaten by a mountain lion and it prepares you to fight or run for your life by injecting a handful of hormones into your system. And even if you can’t feel any of the physical consequences, it doesn’t means the Danger system is not doing its work by clouding your mind with hormones. No time to think, it says, forget the thinking, it’s time to act!

The Reward System - it gives you that fuzzy warm feeling Another system affecting us is the Reward system. It works by releasing dopamine – the “hormone of happiness” – to stimulated us for going after something desirable. It’s part of the system that makes us want what is good and avoid what is bad, like poisons and rotten meat. Be it a tasty food or a new job, the Reward system makes you happy about getting it. It also works when you’re buying something, and it’s not necessarily rewards you for doing a *really* useful thing. How would it know otherwise? No one ate you so far, you’re healthy, not hungry or cold, not having a conflict with other humans and not feeling guilty – therefore, what you did was just fine. That’s why some people are called “shopaholics” – they feel good about buying stuff and then lose any control of the behavior.

Both of these systems can work without you being aware of it, affecting your decisions and thoughts. And this is what all of the known human sales technologies exploit.

The final countdown

So, when you see a sale going on, your brain jumps at it like it’s a fruit tree in deep unknowns of the ancient Africa. As you consider the opportunity the Danger system pumps you with hormones and encourages you to act right now, no thinking involved. Because 50,000 years ago if a human being was thinking too long if it should run from a saber-tooth or not – it would be inevitable eaten by the animal, thus not leaving any children to bear its DNA to the never generations. And so you act.

Buy a game during Steam Sale - Never play it!You proceed with buying something, probably justifying the transaction with thoughts like “it’s a sale, i get XX % off, blah blah blah”. And you feel good for some time because the Reward system makes sure you feel that way. It’s only a while later you see you probably didn’t need that thing you bought and there was a better investment for your money. OR you’re not getting anything, but tempted to act, maybe still struggling with your inner self. In that case “the ad people” come to the rescue – the rescue of the sale, that’s it. There are many techniques to get into people’s mind and make it do all the work.

For example, to evoke a sense of necessity and impress a lack of time simultaneously, to make your Danger system go wild and make you jump at the sale right away. By the way, this is why supermarkets arrange little cheap stuff like bubble-gums and batteries around the place where queue of buyers forms to pay and exit the shop. There’s a higher chance of you getting something cheap and small on the way out, and you’ll probably grab something because your Reward system will jump like a happy puppy.

I myself have some games i bought off sales and then haven’t touched them for a whole year. The same goes for food – i think how cool it would be to eat a particular something, bring it home and then forget about it lying in the fridge until stumbling at it when it’s already spoiled. And this is when i know how all of this stuff is working! On the bright side, it could be much worse if i didn’t – at least i don’t grab at those last-time-at-the-supermarket gums and batteries!

So, watch your actions and don’t act out right away, while your Danger and Reward systems are pushing you into a sale. Oh, and the ad techniques i mentioned? Rest assured: we’ll be discussing them in another post, to get you armed against the contemporary market.

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