Our brain is constantly scanning the environment looking for anything that is dangerous. This also means that the unconscious brain is looking for anything that is new or novel.
The brain is not only looking for the unexpected, it actually craves the unexpected.
Water vs. fruit juice — In a study, either water or fruit juice was squirted into people’s mouths while their brains were being scanned by an fMRI device. Participants could sometimes predict when they were going to get a squirt, but other times they couldn’t predict the squirt. Researchers saw brain activity based on what people liked, or craved. For example, if people liked juice, there would be activity in the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that is active when people are experiencing pleasurable events.
The nucleus accumbens was most active when the squirt was unexpected. It was the surprise that showed greatest activity and craving, not the preferred liquid.
How can you apply this to your marketing and communications? Don’t tell me. Surprise me.
Berns, Gregory S., McClure, S., Pagnoni, G., & Montague, P. Predictability modulates human brain response to reward. The Journal of Neuroscience, 21(8), 2793–2798.