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What Drives Human Decision Making?

Hillary Martinez

Reading Time: 3 minutes

How the Meat Industry Can Leverage Human Behavior Through Technology

As a three-time graduate of Texas A&M University, I have had the privilege to work with world-renowned specialists and laboratories in the fields of Meat Science, Consumer Sensory Science and Behavioral Economics. I intentionally sought this unique combination of specialties with one purpose in mind: to understand the meat consumer from the inside out. Literally. From the hardwiring of the mind to daily impressionable actions consumers make without even realizing it, this is the space I thrive in.

For instance, have you ever been in such a daze driving from Point A to Point B that once you park you ask yourself how you made it to your destination? How about wondering if the type of music that is played in the background of a retail store influences your purchasing decisions? Or why did your favorite fast-food restaurant choose those specific colors for its logo? Or does the order in which a restaurant menu lists its food influence sales? Explanations exist for each of these scenarios as we all have biases that shape the way we interpret the information around us.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-Prize-winning behavioral economist, defines the brain as having two systems.1 System 1, the subconscious portion of the brain, is automatic and handles an incredible amount of information compared to System 2, the conscious portion. Our consciousness is much slower and cannot process information to nearly the level of the subconscious. To place a numerical value behind just how different these two systems are, the subconscious is capable of handling eleven million bits of information per second compared to the conscious at 40 bits2. Ninety-five percent of purchasing decisions are subconscious and primarily driven by emotion.3 While we think we are in control of the decisions we make, our mind uses the rules and habits it has developed over time to drive our actions on a subconscious level.

This leads to the question of whether traditional consumer research techniques such as surveys and focus groups are suboptimal. Perhaps supplementing these forms of research with tools and technologies that interpret the human subconscious is what companies need to better understand their audiences. The field of behavioral sciences would say so. Several tools including, but not limited to, eye tracking, facial coding and galvanic skin response are readily available. By accepting and utilizing these tools, researchers and marketers can answer the “why” behind consumers’ reactions, including their emotions. In today’s technology-driven world, we have the tools at our fingertips. It is time that we start thinking outside the box to more deeply understand our audience.

Let’s take eye tracking as an example. Eye tracking is a means to quantify visual attention for a wide array of scenarios such as product messaging, merchandising and package design. This is done non-invasively by recording the position and movement of the eye using either a simple web camera or a near-infrared bar connected to the bottom of a computer monitor. These devices detect the pupil of the eye by identifying where the light is reflected from the cornea. This yields data that can then be analyzed and interpreted by researchers to gain further insight into the cognitive processing of respondents.

Let’s dive into a simple example for our industry: the traditional overwrapped retail steak. Being immersed in the meat industry, we know what we look for when we peer into the case. We also think we know what consumers look for. Each one of us reading this article suffers from the Curse of Knowledge Bias.4 Because we are so highly aware of and immersed in this industry, we cannot always grasp what an outsider (aka our customer) knows. The following videos show the eye scan path of two different individuals. One is like us, heavily immersed and knowledgeable of meat quality while the other is our typical customer.

Meat Industry Professional


Notice how “we” observe the fine details of the steaks? We take time to observe the marbling and to assess the label to assure it meets the specifications for what cut it claims to be, while our customer quickly scans the external information on the package – in this case, the USDA labels. Less time is spent on the intrinsic characteristics of the product. How would their scan path change based on what supplemental claims we place on the packaging? How about the order in which they intake the information? What would you want them to see before they look at the price of the product? What if we could test this out in the field with a consumer in a retail store using mobile eye tracking equipment? (Surprise… this is possible).

I have only scratched the surface of how we can use this kind of technology to better understand meat consumers “from the inside out,” but I hope I have sparked your interest in this subject. Consider how you might partner with a research group to apply technology that interprets the subconscious to fit your unique business needs.

Sounds Influence Sales

1 Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2 Pradeep, A.K. (2010). The buying brain: Secrets for selling to the subconscious mind. John Wiley & Sons.
3 https://www.inc.com/logan-chierotti/harvard-professor-says-95-of-purchasing-decisions-are-subconscious.html
4 https://thedecisionlab.com/reference-guide/management/curse-of-knowledge