On the Reticular Activating System and how stupid we are when shopping

You just purchased a flashing new item, and all of a sudden all you can see is other people wearing, driving, eating or carrying that very thing you cherished so much a short while ago.

At some point or another I am pretty sure it has happened to you. A few years ago my girlfriend notoriously confused my friend’s Ford Cougar with a spanking new Merc SL500 convertible. An egg and a kiwi fruit you say? To my surprise, since we bought an Audi A4 Avant, that’s all she sees now, and this time the cars are really like ours.

She’s been hit by the Reticular Activating System (or RAS).

What is this RAS?

Imagine that you’re walking through a noise ballroom. Think of all the noise – hundreds of people talking, music, announcements, waiters offering nibbles and drinks. How much of this noise is brought to your attention? Not a lot. True, you can hear a general background noise, but not many of us bother to listen to each individual sound.

But then you hear your name. Suddenly your attention is full on. Your RAS is the automatic mechanism inside your brain that brings relevant information to your attention.

Your reticular activating system is like a filter between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind. It takes instructions from your conscious mind and passes them on to your subconscious.

Some self-help theories are based on creating a very specific picture of our goal in our conscious mind (like us giving a speech or visualising the perfect summersault). The RAS will then pass this on to our subconscious – which will then help us achieve the goal. What in theory this does is bringing to our attention all the relevant information which otherwise might have remained as ‘background noise’.

Good enough, but what effect RAS has on retail therapy? You think of something you want, you visualise it, you go to the shop, you pay for it, you are momentaneously happy for your purchase and on the way back home, you see the garment (or gadget for the boys) being worn by at least a dozen of people and in four magazines. It ends up at the bottom of the wardrobe.

My advice for all those shopaholics out there, take your time before you go shopping, think a lot about what you want to buy, visualise it, and you will see it in so many places that the novelty will fade off and you won’t desire it anymore. However, if you have a weak self-steem, you might end up craving for it even more… so I am not sure what effect this could eventually have on your current account… Oh well, you can always use spare brain time around you!



On Steve Jobs and decoupling the man from the business

Last January 5 Steve Jobs posted a letter on Apple’s site stating that he had a “hormonal imbalance” that caused him lose of weight. The guy is a genius, let’s face it (being a Pixar addict as I am, I owe him my only hours and hours of amazement in front of a non-computer related screen). He conquered pancreatic cancer back in 2004, or seemed to have done so.

Back in December Fortune magazine run an article on Apple’s life after Jobs (Apple 2.0, 20.12.2008). Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, came as the leader of the pack. As a matter of fact, he had taken over the reins for a short while and he has taken them over again.

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