Posted by: Brandon Bester | May 27, 2013

Warmer Temperatures Increase our Reliance on Heuristic Decisions

ImageWe’re heading into Winter here in South Africa, which raised a very valid thought; to what extent does the temperature impact our decision making processes? Seems like the answer is “quite a bit actually”. While Neuromarketing plays a very big role in brand messaging contained in adverts, product packaging, product design, etc. it is also important to consider the actual environment in which products are being sold. One great example is that of retail stores. How often have you walked into a retail store during Winter, where they have the heat cranked up to a noticeably warmer temperature? How did you find your shopping experience in these circumstances? I have personally had many an experience where I have walked out of a very warm retail store, frustrated and without making a purchase. The question, from a Neuromarketing perspective, is why….

Some light can be shed by research conducted by Cheema A & Patrick V. In their research, they were able to demonstrate that warmer temperatures in particular can actually hamper our performance on complex decision making tasks. Using 5 smartly structured studies, it was shown that warmer temperatures:

  • Reduced the likelihood of consumers choosing innovative products
  • Increased consumer reliance on heuristic decision making
  • Reduced consumers’ cognitive resources for complex tasks

The temperature ranges explored were quite modest; between 19 and 25 degrees Celsius. These are temperature differences that can easily be experienced in Winter when moving from outside to a heated retail environment.

The Premise: Our bodies have a greater tolerance for colder temperatures than for warmer temperatures. Keeping the body cool in warmer temperatures, diverts resources (such as Glucose) from our energy-hungry cognitive brains.

The Findings: Warmer temperatures do in fact influence the resources we have available for effortful decision making, therefore causing us to rely more on heuristics and to spend less effort on complex decisions. Temperature differences are relative i.e. a warm temperature for a consumer in Cape Town in Winter would be different to a warm temperature for a consumer in Durban.

The Application: The underlying constructs of the research findings are important, particularly for retail environments where consumers are faced with lots of choice, and where the consumer needs to make a choice that is not routine e.g. purchasing a new outfit, choosing a new/different brand of hair shampoo. If the temperature is too warm, the consumer won’t spend time looking for an outfit and would simply revert to their habitual brand purchase for the shampoo. Car showrooms would also potentially benefit from cooler temperatures where the consumer needs to consider many different variables as part of the decision making process.

In conclusion, if your consumers are in a setting where complex decisions are involved or if you want them to try something new, then cooler temperatures would be better suited (around 20 Degrees Celsius). If your consumers need to make more intuitive decisions, then you’re better off at warmer temperatures (24 Degrees Celsius). Note: Temperatures would all be relative to the climate, so further analysis would be required. 


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