Wednesday, 4 April 2012

On touching and being touched

“Just hold it,” I heard the man in the Apple shop say to the young executive who had been gazing longingly at the new iPad.
"Don’t touch it"  I wanted to say, "unless you really want to take it home with you."
Touching an object increases our desire for it.

Luckily I can hold back in these situations. I could get banned from so many shops otherwise. I wanted to warn the guy against touching because research shows that when we touch an object we’re more likely to buy it. 
In fact, once we’ve touched it we’ll pay more for it. 
If it feels nice that is. And, let’s face it, Apple products feel nice. Someone once described them to me as ‘lickable’. But going around licking stuff in shops would get us banned, so maybe holding them is the next best pleasure.

Touching increases sense of ownership
You see we’re used to touching stuff that we own. So, when we touch something in a shop, our sense of ownership is increased. And since we prefer the stuff that we own to other stuff, we’re prepared to pay more for it. No wonder so much impulse buying goes on.

An eminent media coach once told me to get my audience to pass a copy of my book to the person at the far back of the room. “Then everyone who’s touched it will want it,” he said. I've never tested that one out (just in case it got passed right back to me).

Touching changes the brain’s responses
Our sense of touch is so fundamental that we like to have it stimulated when we’re feeling a bit low. When young mammals are sick or lost, the brain tries to replenish them by making them more sensitive to touch. Then they enjoy a hug more and can re-bond quickly. It’s the same with consumers. Not that they are injured or have lost their mums, but if they feel a bit depressed their responsivity to the tactile aspects of goods is increased. So if you shop when you feel depressed, and touch a lot of stuff, don’t be surprised if your credit card feels the pain.
The brain changes in response to touch

Strangers: Hands off
We may like touching stuff in shops but we sure don’t want to rub shoulders with other customers. Research shows that even being brushed by a fellow shopper makes consumers more likely to head for the exit. Dr Brett Martin actually did an experiment to test this, half the consumers were brushed against while looking at a product, half weren’t (I know, us psychologists have all the fun). The  touched-ones left the store quicker and reported more negative feelings towards the brand afterwards, than those left ‘untouched’. So a store with narrow aisles crammed with goods is not making it easy for their customers to buy.

Touched babies say No to drugs
OK you might find the stuff about shopping and touching a bit trivial. But did you know that babies who get more cuddles are more able to resist drugs as adults?
Cuddle me cuddle my brain

This was first shown in studies with rats. Mother rats who were more nurturing and attentive produced specific changes in the immune responses in the brains of their pups, leaving them more able to resist the temptation of a dose of morphine later in life. So not only does a mother’s touch actually change brain functioning, scientists now think it’s also protective against later drug abuse.  

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