Hearing, Without Even Hearing It

Of all the structures & organs that have evolved and the human body has developed, the auditory & vestibular system is (arguably) one of the most complex and fascinating ones. Originating from the lateral line system still present today in aquatic vertebrae, fish, and amphibians (where it serves as a tactile sense), it enables us humans today to hear over an astonishing range of frequencies (pitch) & intensities (loudness), as well as always keep our balance.

The human ear can detect frequencies from as low as 20 Hz up to 20,000 Hz (a diminishing rate as we age, though). Even more amazingly, the lowest sound intensity is about 1 trillionth (i.e. 0.0000000001%, just let that sink in) of the loudest sound intensity not yet damaging our ears.

Obviously, our brain filters most of what our ears hear because it is not directly relevant to us (people suffering from schizophrenia seem to lack this ability, with severe consequences). But is all the filtered sound simply being ignored, or can it still influence our (financial) behavior?

Behavioral research has discovered that priming can have a significant effect on our choices and behavior. Priming is the phenomenon where exposure to a specific stimulus can influence our reaction to further corresponding stimuli. Here is a quick example of it:

Think about the last time you took a shower.

Complete this word: S_ _P

What word came to your mind first? Chances are high that it was soap, not soup.

This happens because thinking about when you last took a shower primes your brain for words and activities related to that, which soap clearly is (but soup is not quite).

The question arising from above example is: How susceptible are we to priming, and what is the smallest stimulus (i.e. sound intensity, in the case of hearing) that primes our brain without us noticing it?

Answering this question still seems to be a hot topic among psychologists and behavioral scientists, so no definite conclusion here (yet). What can be thought of, though, are even more questions regarding this topic – especially from a behavioral finance standpoint.

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