Previous: When Does Your Brain Stop Developing?
Next: 4 Common Misconceptions About Antidepressants, Debunked



View count:143,864
Last sync:2022-11-19 17:15
Why do people often buy the same brands over and over again?

Hosted by: Hank Green
Support SciShow by becoming a patron on Patreon:
Dooblydoo thanks go to the following Patreon supporters:
Kevin Bealer, Mark Terrio-Cameron, KatieMarie Magnone, Patrick Merrithew, D.A. Noe, Charles Southerland, Fatima Iqbal, Sultan Alkhulaifi, Nicholas Smith, Tim Curwick, Alexander Wadsworth, Scott Satovsky Jr, Philippe von Bergen, Bella Nash, Chris Peters, Patrick D. Ashmore, Piya Shedden, Charles George
Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet?


A few years ago, Microsoft rolled out the “Bing It On” challenge. You'd enter a search term and get side-by-side comparisons of Google's results page and.

Bing's results page — both unbranded. Visitors to the site get to vote for the one they like best. Of course, a lot of us know what Google looks like.

The idea, though, was that you might look at Bing's user interface and discover you liked it okay... or even better than Google. And, I mean, there are a lot of brands out there that do basically the same thing as their competitor: Starbucks, Dunkin. Pizza Hut, Domino's.

Target, Walmart. I know to some of you those were fighting words. I hope all you super Domino's-loving people don't get mad at me for saying it's basically.

Pizza Hut...or the other way around. I'm sure it's different for you. So why do we care so much?

Part of the answer seems to be social identification, which is our sense of belongingness to a group. Brands become part of our identity — or at least, part of the identity we aspire to. Think of the Mac vs.

PC commercials that portrayed Mac as a hip, young kid and PC as an old guy who couldn't keep up. Or Canon Rebel ads, which seem to tell us that we, too, can be outdoorsy and adventurous. With groups of people, social identification has been found to increase our feelings of pride and self-esteem, and make us more willing to cooperate with others in our group or donate to a cause.

But it seems like we can identify with brands, too, and that makes us more willing to trust and invest in them. That's why companies make ads that seem to share our values and aspirations. But while our attraction to and identification with a brand seems to increase things like trust and word-of-mouth recommendations, it doesn't fully account for brand loyalty.

Psychologists think another big part of brand loyalty is habit. A lot of studies have shown that we prefer things that are familiar. This is the mere exposure effect: the idea that simply being exposed to something again and again makes us like it more.

On top of that, there's the sunk cost fallacy, which is when we keep throwing money, time, or effort at something just because we've already put a lot of money, time, or effort into it. Even if we might be better off with something else. Basically, we're not always very good decision-makers when some sort of comfort or recognition is involved.

Consider, for a moment, jam. The stuff you smear on toast. In a study from 2000 that's become somewhat famous, across two Saturdays, 502 shoppers at a grocery store encountered one of two displays of jam: one with 6 flavor choices or another with 24.

The display with more jams seemed more attractive to shoppers. More of them approached it to try a sample. But the people with more choices ultimately bought less jam. 30% of samplers at the six-flavor display bought jam, while only 3% at the 24-flavor display did.

The researchers recognized that there could've been other factors, like different kinds of shoppers approaching different displays, or people not having time to sample enough options to make a decision. But they did do two more experiments with slightly different setups that involved choosing an essay prompt and picking chocolate from either a big or small selection. And they generally found that people liked having a lot of options, but the choice felt overwhelming and sometimes hard to manage.

So, like, why bother with all the options? Choosing to buy the same products could help you avoid things like uncertainty, stress, and the worry that you're making the wrong choice. But our brains seem to go even further: once we get to know or like a product, we double down on it.

A 2004 study had 67 participants do a couple different taste tests of Coke and Pepsi. In anonymous tests, when the drinks weren't labeled, there were mixed preferences for. Coke and Pepsi.

Then, there was a taste test between Coke that was labeled as Coke, and another mystery cup that contained Coke or Pepsi. And participants liked the labeled Coke better, even when they expressed different preferences beforehand, or both cups had Coke inside them! These tests were repeated in an fMRI machine, and different regions of the brain were activated in each one.

Anonymous trials activated the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which we think is involved in lots of things, including decision-making, processing risk, and mood. Activity in that brain region was different enough between drinking Pepsi and Coke that the researchers could even predict what participants would say they preferred afterwards, based on taste. But trials with labeled Coke also affected activity in other regions, like the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which seems to be involved in working memory.

The researchers concluded that different parts of the brain seem to be involved with what participants thought tasted better, and what they preferred because of cultural influences. Just labeling Coke seemed to activate more memory-related brain regions and bias people's judgments. It's like the participants remembered things about Coke's brand, and those feelings had a bigger influence on their behavior than tasting the sodas.

This study's results go hand-in-hand with what's called the choice-supportive bias: our tendency to remember good qualities of brands we've chosen to like, and forget all the bad aspects of them. There's even evidence that marketing messages work better when they're about a brand that we already like, which kind of makes sense. If we already like something, we want to rationalize why.

And ads are ready-made warm and fuzzy messages that help with that. But when it comes down to it, brand loyalty is only partially because of catchy jingles. It's mostly all about us.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych! To learn more about the weird things our brains do, you can go to and subscribe. [♪OUTRO].