The Power of Vision

The Power of Vision


What do humans have the best of amongst others from the animal kingdom? One word: Vision.

Our visual system is the best in the animal kingdom as we’re inherently visual creatures. Because a third of our brain cortex is dedicated solely on vision, vision is without a doubt the most powerful sense we possess. We’re all fundamentally visual learners as memories laid down in the visual domain are much stronger in terms of recalling and retrieving detailed information. When our senses of taste, touch, sound, smell, and sight arm wrestle with each other, vision always wins out.

So where and when does the journey of visual information in the brain begin? It’s super simple: When light information bounces off the iris, a muscle in the eye that encircles the pupil allowing it to open and close depending on how much light enters into the eye, it reflects on the back wall of the eye, the retina. The cells that are sensitive to light coming into the eye in the retina are called photoreceptors. The two types of photoreceptors are rods and cones. Rods are specialized for motion and night conditions when there is minimal light. Cones are responsible for color vision and used in lighted conditions.

Once light hits the photoreceptors, a chain of fascinating events converts these light signals to neural impulses, ultimately giving rise to images we see. Imagine how streams of light is transformed into our everyday visual experiences.

Now that we know how vision works in a nutshell, let’s find out why we look at where we look. What spurs our vision are two attention mechanisms driven by different stimuli. Our endogenous attention stems from our internal and own-generated attention, while exogenous attention is stimulated by information from the outside world. To simplify their differences, take grocery shopping for example. Shopping with the endogenous attention programmed in your brain is like entering your neighborhood market with a shopping list in mind. This volition-based mechanism allows us to take control of our own purchases. Exogenous attention, on the other hand, is simply browsing through the shelves while shopping. This attention mechanism is naturally driven by saliency. The key elements that drive visual saliency are angles, colors, and contrast; in fact, 85% of where we look is determined because of contrast (hence the colored call-to-action “Download Now,” “Subscribe Here” or “Add to Cart” buttons you see online everywhere you browse) while the remaining 15% is due to texts, faces, and people.

Not only do colors drive visual saliency, but they too shape how we feel, think, and behave. One of the most compelling examples of color effects is the Baker Miller Pink, dubbed as the “Drunk Tank” Pink by Adam Alter, known for its ability to suppress feelings and behaviors of anger, hostility, antagonism among prisoners. Dr. Alexander Schauss, Ph.D., Director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma Washington reported, “Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can't. The heart muscles can’t race fast enough. It’s a tranquilizing color that saps your energy. Even the color-blind are tranquilized by pink rooms.”

Although evidence has only reported it to work for short-term exposure to the pink color and prisoners may regress to their antagonistic-ridden behaviors, there is an undeniable effect of colors on our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. The Baker Miller Pink phenomenon has gone so far that Iowa and Colorado State painted its away football locker rooms based on the premise that it would make the other teams’ players passive. As a result, The Western American Conference (WAC) has declared that lockers must not be painted in different colors as the home team’s.

Since up to 90% of snap judgements made about products can be based on color alone, colors play a substantial role in purchases, branding, and brand personalities. When consumers relate with strong brands, it’s due to the involvement of cortical areas of the brain with positive emotional processing, which in turn is deeply associated with self-identification and rewards. Brands with strong associations are processed with less effort by consumers while weak brands fatigue the working memory, eliciting negative emotional responses.

As marketers, finding colors that support the personality you want to portray is far more significant than trying to align with stereotypical color associations. The importance of color in itself doesn’t matter and will never ever matter. It’s predicting consumer reactions to color appropriateness in relation to the product that matters… always.

With our knowledge in the power of vision, eye-tracking research technique and heat maps today, it has gotten especially easier to measure attention and the effect of colors to take full advantage of driving visual saliency and figure out the sweet spot either of your website,  blog, online store, or shelf space. What differentiates products and services is how businesses create multi-sensory experiences that are both memorable and emotionally salient. That’s the sweet spot every marketer’s ever dreamed of. Here, we could really take Maya Angelou’s quote to heart as it has never been this relevant to marketing before: “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Feed Your Brain

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