Sunshine and Consumer Minds: How warmth shapes perceptions and choices
In our modern world, we are bombarded by an incessant flow of information and surrounded by a consumer-driven society that constantly vies for our attention. We encounter an average of up to 5000 advertisements per day,[i] shaping our perceptions and influencing our decision-making. In the midst of summer, with longer days and warmer temperatures, our moods are lifted, and a sense of pleasantness is instilled. How does warmth influence our cognitive processing, and what effect does this have in the context of advertising in perpetuating consumerism?
The warmer temperatures in summer can lead to psychological changes known as embodied cognition. This refers to how our physical sensations unconsciously shape our perceptions, attitudes, decision-making, and cognition.[ii] Temperatures between 20°C and 30°C have been linked to positive emotions and heightened arousal.[iii] Positive emotions like tranquillity, happiness, curiosity, joy, confidence, and encouragement result in positive evaluations of stimuli in our environment. This means things are seen less negatively, and we are less critical of the things we encounter.[iv]
In warmer temperatures, embodied cognition can lead to increased reliance on social proof, which makes us more likely to conform and rely on others’ opinions. When in a warmer environment (25 °C), we tend to rely on others’ opinions more when forming preferences about products, compared to cooler surroundings (16 °C).[v] For example, in the arena of horseracing and betting, v warmer days on average led to a convergence towards a favourite horse; the option preferred by the majority of bettors, despite typically lower returns.v This increased social reliance indicates reduced cognitive performance and a tendency towards mental laziness when evaluating situations, leading to less informed choices. Heat can result in a depletion of our cognitive processing ability,[vi] evidently in a consumer society, this can result in suboptimal purchasing decisions.
Warmer temperatures also increase the perceived value we place on objects, including products. For example, researchers found that people were willing to pay more for batteries and a chocolate cake after holding a warm pad (45 °C) compared to a cold pad (12 °C).[vii] Both embodied cognition and the elicitation of positive emotions contribute to enhanced evaluations of items and a willingness to pay more for them.
Role of Advertising
In line with our understanding of how warmer temperatures can affect our decision-making, it’s important to consider the implications within the real world. The effect of advertising and media is central to how this altered cognitive state reveals itself in our world. Advertising, in essence, serves as a form of propaganda, not in the commonly associated pejorative term, but instead by “the association, systematic scheme or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or concept”.[viii] By this definition, advertising is regarded as the propagation of a consumer system, where companies compete to have their product at the forefront of the consumer’s mind, to purchase their product, instead of their competitors. However, the organisation and dissemination of thought propagated to us can be useful, despite its obvious flaws. Useful in alleviating the burden of meticulously evaluating every product on the market, it also raises questions about the implications of our reduced ability to make rational decisions under the influence of advertising.
The media and marketing that surround us ensure the continuation of consumption, even during the summer months when our sense of liberty and exploration may be heightened. Advertisements in warmer seasons tap into primal desires for social cohesion, freedom, and well-being. Sociologist Jean Baudrillard discussed in The Consumer Society (1970) the role of the media in shaping our perception of reality, through its constant bombardment of images, symbols, and messages, plays a significant role in creating and maintaining a consensus reality. The media not only reflects reality but actively participates in its construction and simulation. This process of manufacturing consent, or creating a consensus reality, occurs through the dissemination of images, narratives, and symbols that influence individuals’ perceptions, beliefs, and actions.[ix]
This interplay between media, industry, and our desire for continuous consumption results in a reality where demand must be perpetually sustained. In Propaganda (1928), Edward Bernays, heralded as the ‘father of public relations’ explains that
“mass production is only profitable if rhythm can be maintained … cannot afford to wait until the public asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch, through advertising and propaganda … to assure itself the continuous demand”[x]
It is within this context that our reduced cognitive capacity, influenced by advertising, becomes particularly significant.
Consider the century-long advertising history of Coca-Cola as an illustrative example. Their Christmas campaigns, featuring the iconic figure of Santa Claus since the 1920s, have solidified the association between Coca-Cola and festive traditions, family togetherness, and the joy of the holiday season. Conversely, the 1969 summer campaign capitalizes on our desires for freedom, adventure, and social cohesion. The use of sand and sunny beaches seems to in be every advertisement in the summer, instilling a sense of familiarity associated with social reliance as previously stated.
Left: 1996 Coca-Cola Christmas trucks with Santa. Right: 1969 Summer goes better with Coke
Thus, marketing and media harness our induced mental laziness, capitalizing on the altered cognitive state caused by warmer temperatures, to maintain a constant demand for their products. This, in combination with the existence of planned obsolescence, manufacturing products with inherently subpar quality,[xi] leads to the conundrum of overconsumption and its negative consequences. An interesting example of this was the planned obsolescence of the light bulb, which life span was reduced to 1000 hours from 2500 hours by the Phoebus Cartel, a oligopoly of the light bulb industry in 1925.[xii] This manoeuvre which rose the cost of light bulb to the buyer and reduced the manufacturing cost to the producer, increased margins for the light bulb manufacturer whilst increasing demand for light bulbs.[xiii] Inducing greater demand can be seen in countless products this day.
While these issues cannot be overlooked, it is essential to acknowledge that consumerism remains an integral part of our daily lives. We fulfil basic needs such as survival, but also thrive by exploring and fulfilling desires and aspirations by actively participating in our consumption-driven society. Our mind actively encourages us to be lazy, we take short cuts in the form of mental biases in order to make sense of our abundant and complex worlds. The high temperatures across Europe and other places across the globe this summer are not helpful, given the insights on how our decisions are so susceptible to the temperature we find ourselves in. Hence given the nature of better moods in the summer, or even irritability, it seems inevitable we fall prey to over consumption.
[i] Story, L. (2007). Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/15/business/media/15everywhere.html#:~:text=Yankelovich%2C%20a%20market%20research%20firm,with%20up%20to%205%2C000%20today.
[ii] The Science of Sensory Marketing. Harvard Business Review. (2015). https://hbr.org/2015/03/the-science-of-sensory-marketing
[iii] Barbosa Escobar, F., Velasco, C., Motoki, K., Byrne, D. V., & Wang, Q. J. (2021). The temperature of emotions. PloS one, 16(6), e0252408. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0252408.
[iv] Griskevicius, V., Shiota, M. N., & Neufeld, S. L. (2010). Influence of different positive emotions on persuasion processing: a functional evolutionary approach. Emotion, 10(2), 190.
[v] Huang, X. I., Zhang, M., Hui, M. K., & Wyer Jr., R. S. (2014). Warmth and Conformity: The Effects of Ambient Temperature on Product Preferences and Financial Decisions. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24, 241-250.
[vi] Mazloumi, A., Golbabaei, F., Mahmood Khani, S., Kazemi, Z., Hosseini, M., Abbasinia, M., & Farhang Dehghan, S. (2014). Evaluating Effects of Heat Stress on Cognitive Function among Workers in a Hot Industry. Health promotion perspectives, 4(2), 240–246. https://doi.org/10.5681/hpp.2014.031.
[vii] Zwebner, Y., Lee, L., & Goldenberg, J. (2013). The temperature premium: Warm temperatures increase product valuation. In Journal of Consumer Psychology (Vol. 24, Issue 2, pp. 251–259). Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2013.11.003.
[viii] propaganda, n. : Oxford English Dictionary. (n.d.). https://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/152605.
[ix] Baudrillard, J. (1970). The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Theory, Culture & Society.
[x] Bernays, E. (2004). Propaganda. Ig Publishing.
[xii] MacKinnon, J. B. (2016-07-14). “The L.E.D. Quandary: Why There’s No Such Thing as “Built to Last””. The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X.