More Expectations

Remember how I mentioned a couple of posts ago that the universe has been dropping “EXPECTATIONS” anvils on my head recently? I just got another one (Oww!) and thought I’d share.

I’m reading Sparks of Genius, by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, a book about creative thinking tools used by various genius-type people. It’s really good so far, and I’ll probably do a post about it when I’m done.

This bit caught my eye, though:

The mind’s preconceptions can alter our other perceptual sensations, too. A simple example can be found in Zap Science, produced by the Exploratorium science museum of San Francisco. On page three of this stimulating book is a picture of a pizza covered with a removable piece of plastic labelled: “Mystery smell. Peel off and replace.” The picture conjures in most people’s minds the taste and smell of pizza. But, as the text says, “It doesn’t smell like a pizza does it? It smells like… like… like… How come you can’t think of the answer? Because we crossed up your mental wires. We put a picture of a pizza with the smell of a chocolate chip cookie. Messes up your brain.” In fact, many who encounter the pizza picture find the cookie smell nauseating even though they like both pizza and chocolate chip cookies separately. Our mental expectations mediate perception just as certainly for touch, taste, smell, and hearing as for vision. [pg. 43]

That’s pretty awesome, in and of itself. But it’s also a great example of how our expectations can mess with our perception and enjoyment of what we actually get, if it’s different from what we thought we were getting. If people who expected pizza can actually feel nausea at the smell of a chocolate chip cookie, then it’s even less weird that someone who buys a book labelled Genre A will be at the very least annoyed when they read the book and find that it’s actually Genre B.

People involved in marketing should be forced to study these phenomena.


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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.