Ideas are, at least in part, shaped by the body and its interaction with the world.

Consider just one variable: temperature. If a user were to access our content while working in a country experiencing a sub-zero freeze, we can use a content management system and multi-variant testing to adapt our tone and imagery to give him a feeling of warmth. We know from studies of embodied cognition that if we can evoke a sense of physical warmth within our users, they will, in turn, think warmly of us, our product, or service. Marketers have been doing this for years. Campbell’s Soup has spent years and millions of dollars trying to divine the perfect amount of steam to display on its labels. They’ve been able to sell more soup by simply removing a spoon and adding more steam to the pictures they’ve chosen for their in-store displays.

The increased amount of steam reinforces the embodied knowledge tied to our metaphors for warmth.
(It also triggers several actions in the brain, but that is for another column.) Several members of a shopper panel exposed to the steamier images reportedly put more soup in their basket than they intended to buy. These findings are both wonderful and scary: embodied cognition implies that if we’re truly interested in changing someone’s behaviors or capacity to learn, we don’t need users to consciously change their attitudes. We need only make a change to their environment, via music, imagery, color variation, or even copy tone.

This means that the work we do, the things we make, and all the choices that lead to a system’s creation are far from neutral. As we pioneer new techniques in publishing, those who understand the ways in which cognition is rooted in embodied actions can achieve greater understanding from their audiences. With that power comes great responsibility.

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