Tag Archives: decision making

Ants, Advertising and Better Decision Making

Inside view of an ant’s brain

What’s the best way to make a decision? Should you go rogue, or consult with a group? New research about ants gives insight into decision making that you can tryout with picking movies or cracking a gnarly marketing problem.

Popping up an idea into a bold advertising campaign, for example, requires dozens if not hundreds and thousands of decisions. Clients, writers, art directors, account managers, photographers, and animators make them individually or collectively.

Going solo, the psychological impact of excessive choice is overwhelming and counterproductive to decision making. This is why we sometimes settle for the tried and true, like ordering the same latte every day, because you don’t have time to explore the other 40 options.

For people in advertising, especially, settling is not an option. The same old, same old, doesn’t work. So how can we make better creative decisions?

For better results, act like an ant.

By studying ants, Temnothorax rugatulusants, Scientists at the Arizona State University showed that six-legged creatures are just as vulnerable to information overload as we are.

In the experiment, a single ant, and then a colony of ants were unleashed to find the most suitable of eight possible nests. The ants had to consider a number of variables, including the size and darkness of the prospective dwelling, and the characteristics of, and the and opening to their nests, and the size of the opening. In other words, house hunting.

Single ants made poor choices 50% of the time. But the group of ants shared Intel through scents and made better decisions. It’s fascinating that the ants were able to synthesize, when only one had visited all eight nests. “One of them visited all eight nests, but most colony members visited only one or two nests, said Dr. Takao Sasaki, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

“What we really want is a more complete understanding as to how this society works as a kind of distributed brain,” said co-researcher and associate professor Stephen Pratt. He further suggests that this type of “distributed brain” may have uses in robotics. Our brains work in a similar way. The frontal cortex takes charge of problem solving after considering decisions made by other parts of the brain.

The downside of collective decision-making is speed, and potential group think. But if you’re ultimate goal is to make an important choice, you’ll do better if you listen to the IT guy, engineering, marketing, and customers, and, of course, the ad agency. None of them will have the complete picture, but exposing additional facets, facts, and conclusions will result in better decision.

In a complex, technological society, no one can has all the answers. So, instead of squishing the next ant you see, you might want to start acting like one.

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Amorous monkeys and the case against group think

In the prologue of Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” he outlines a fictional experiment that illuminates our inescapable drive to belong, and how it can drive catastrophic decisions.

Surgeons removed the amygdalas from 30 monkeys. This almond-sized portion of the brain regulates higher emotion. The monkeys were placed in a central area where they promptly became hypersexual. Meanwhile, a control group of monkeys, brains intact, watched from locked cages.

When a control monkey inadvertently mixed with the amorous group, it immediately hopped on the band wagon (so to speak). Wolfe’s point, which is borne out ad nauseum in history is that an individuals genetic predispositions and learning can easily be overcome by environment.

This may explain why groups sometimes bring out the worst in humans. And why group think is so dangerous and pervasive. The fact that “everybody’s doing it” doesn’t make it just. Just as the notion that communication, new products, or political concepts that test well with a group will necessarily lead to success. They don’t. Breaking out of the norm, getting noticed, a critical aspect of all communication, takes courage and a risk in social standing. But not to do so is to sacrifice the uniqueness of a brand. Just like the “daisy-chained” monkeys on the floor of Starling’s lab gave up their personal freedom for an orgy.

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