Have you ever bought a new shirt, and suddenly you started seeing it everywhere you go? Or you see ads for it everywhere? There’s a very specific reason why this happens, and understanding this sheds light on how the human mind works and how the human mind makes decisions. It’s vitally important to succeeding in the modern era.

To understand why this happens, let’s look at the primal mind.

The Reticular Activating System: The Brain’s Bouncer

The primal mind can be thought of as the part of our psychology that we inherited from our ancestors through all the years of human evolution. It’s the most basic part of our mind – the one that tells us to take our hand off a hot stove or hit the brake when the car in front of us comes to a sudden stop. This part of our mind works unconsciously to keep us safe. It decides what external stimuli to pay attention to, and what we can ignore.

A lot of the work around the unconscious and conscious mind is managed by the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is a small part of our brain that controls what stimuli get into the brain for conscious consideration. Think of it like the bouncer outside of a busy club. The bouncer decides who gets in and who stays out. Keep this in mind (pun intended) as we talk more about the relationship between evolutionary psychology and marketing. As marketers, we want the brain to pay attention to what we do. We have to get past that bouncer.

The interesting thing about the RAS is that while its first concern is keeping us safe, it’s also heavily influenced by our focus. Take this example. In the following video, count the number of passes the team makes.

Now that you’ve finished the video… How many passes did you count? And did you notice the man in the gorilla suit walking through the court?

This is a great example of the bouncer in our brain doing its job. When you want to focus on counting passes, the RAS lets that information in so we can complete our task. When you aren’t focusing on counting passes, the RAS let’s the whole scene in, including the man in the gorilla suit.

As you drive home from work, your brain knows exactly what to do. You know where to turn and where to expect a traffic light. The RAS is on call to let in additional information as necessary, like the example of slamming on your brakes when someone in front of you stops suddenly. Besides those cases, the unconscious mind takes on most of the work.

Reticular Activating System as bouncer

Harnessing the power of the conscious and unconscious minds

The unconscious mind plays a huge part in the decision making we do all day every day. And that’s incredibly helpful and necessary because we make 35,000 decisions every day.

Imagine if we needed to make all 35,000 of those decisions consciously. We’d be completely overwhelmed. That’s why it’s crucial that our unconscious minds are so capable. That part of the brain gets things done, including the things we don’t need to consciously review, like the turns we make on our drive home.

In The Power of Fifty Bits by Bob Nease, Nease talks about the steps we can take to bridge the gap between what we intend to do and what we actually do. If the brain processes 10,000,000 bits of information, the conscious mind is in charge of “50 bits” of those. There’s so much happening behind the scenes that we don’t consciously influence. What we need to do as individuals – and what we need to understand to be good marketers – is harness the potential of those 50 bits to achieve our goals.

Because the conscious mind – the thinking mind – is only in charge of processing a small portion of inputs, we must harness the power of the RAS to make sure that the messages we want to get through to people makes it past the bouncer. 

How to Get Past the Bouncer

Remember, the RAS is on the lookout for what information we need and what information we don’t need. If we tell the RAS to count the number of times players pass a basketball, it lets us focus on counting. When a potential customer is scrolling through Facebook and sees your ad, what does the RAS do? Does it tell the brain to focus on that ad, or does it ignore your ad and let you keep scrolling?

There are six approaches for getting on the VIP list so the RAS bouncer lets you through.







The highest impact approach that you can use right now in your marketing efforts is VISUAL. In the next article, we’ll take a deeper dive into this approach.

Key Takeaways

1 – In order to grow your company in a noisy digital environment, it’s critical to understand how human attention works. Understanding evolutionary psychology and its impact on what draws our attention and focus allows us to stand out and capture the attention of potential customers.

2 – There are key principles you can leverage to utilize this mechanism, the most important of which is visual.

See you in part two.