Friday, December 4

Understanding Psychology: Three Studies For Communicators

Two psychology studies and another that was recently funded may be among the most important for communicators to consider in the years ahead. Although none of them were/are being performed for the communication industry, the outcomes of all three can further an understanding of marketing, branding, and even leadership.

Three Psychology Studies Communicators Ought To Care About.

1. Loneliness and other emotions spread. Conducted by Dr. Nicholas Christakis, Harvard University; James Fowler at the University of California, San Diego; and John Cacioppo, University of Chicago; the study relies on data from the Framingham Heart Study, which has followed more than 5,000 people in Framingham, Massachusetts, since 1948.

The Framingham Heart Study allowed the researchers to demonstrate a direct connection to relationships and loneliness. Specifically, if a direct connection in a person's network is lonely, he or she is 52 percent more likely to be lonely. At two degrees of separation, a friend of a friend who is lonely is 25 percent more likely to be lonely. At three degrees, it's 15 percent.

2. Personality can predict success in media school. Conducted by Deniz Ones, University of Minnesota; Filip Lievens, Ghent University; and Stephan Dilchert, Baruch College, CUNY; the studies indicate personality plays a major role in determining who succeeds in medical school, with energetic and sociable personalities being detrimental to early education but more important for success as the curriculum changes and internships or patient interaction became important.

While the study is being applied to the medical school admissions process (which we disagree with in practice, given the strain it places on ethics), it may also reinforce the findings of the loneliness study in that personality traits may be indicative of either being resistant to negative emotions spread by others or a catalyst for spreading positive emotions.

3. Study receives funding to find root of depression. Being led by Brandon Gibb, Binghamton University, the study will track 250 children, ages 8 to 14, to develop an understanding of variables that can lead to depression. The study is unique from the other two in that Gibb and his colleagues intend to review genetic and environmental factors.

Gibb has previously found that the teen years result in an increased risk of depression in children, especially between the ages of 13 and 18. Females are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression over males during that time, which also reinforces the first study's finding that emotions are more likely spread among women.

Six Reasons These Studies May Apply To Marketing, Branding, and Leadership.

Understanding psychology and sociology is extremely important to the long-term success of organizational communication, internally and externally. These studies stand out, in particular, given their implications across a variety communication functions.

• Branding is emotionally charged. Given that branding is best defined as the relationship between the brand and the consumer, it stands to reason that the relationship relies on the emotional connection (positive or negative feelings) that a person has about a particular product or service. Negative and positive experiences reinforce those feelings, which can then be passed on to others even if those second or third generation consumers have never had an experience.

• Fulfilled brand promises are powerful. When you look at the most successful brands in the world, the common denominator tends to be their ability to meet their brand promise. So advertising, public relations, word of mouth, and other factors all contribute to the brand promise, with the product or service fulfilling it. The further away the end experience is from that promise, the more negative that emotion is likely to be and the more likely it is to spread.

• Real influence is unseen, and not measurable. In the two completed studies, participants seemed to have no cognitive insight that their experiences were being influenced by the emotions they projected or the emotions conveyed by the people in their relationships. While social media experts tend to measure "seen" influencers (such as messages being spread), it is more likely that the greater impact of influence is unseen and directly related to outcomes.

• Organizational leadership is critical to the end consumer. Effective leadership within a company is critical in that leaders have a dual task of setting the culture of the company (positive or negative) and minimizing the spread of negative emotions that are passed from employee to employee and employee to consumer. The significance here is that negatively-charged leadership can spread throughout an internal network or online network and out to consumers.

• The spread of emotions is powerful in online networks. Carrying forward the concept to social media, it seems clear why "trolls" can be so impacting to a community. Much like loneliness spreads, a troll's general negativity can undermine the community because even if they do not "influence" actions, they can influence how people feel about the group or organization. Negatively charged social networks eventually empty.

• Marketing may sometimes be impacted by genetics. As unlikely as it seems, if the Gibb study is able to pinpoint the propensity that depression is genetic or environmental, then there may be an indirect link to a genetic predisposition to accept or spread emotions. For marketers, it could single an interesting challenge. As marketing becomes increasingly relationship driven, it may become even more important to identify and nurture brand advocates who are predisposed to spreading positive sentiment.

While the above observations only scratch the surface, the direct impact psychology plays in leadership communication, marketing messages, and brand fulfillment creates a much more robust picture of how communication intent can be enhanced or diminished before it produces an outcome. We see several areas where conceptual models could apply to real life examples, something that may be worth tackling next week.



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