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soaps and candies, writing-papers and breakfast foods, and other
articles which are handled by the retailer, the sale of which depends
upon the inclination and caprice of the customer in the store. For
every one of these objects a number of external covers and labels were
sent and with them a confidential report with details about their
relative success. For instance, a certain kind of chocolate was sold
under 12 different labels. One of them was highly successful in the
whole country, and one other had made the same article entirely
unsaleable. The other 10 could be graded between these extremes. In
all 12 cases the covers were decorated with pictures of women with a
scenic background. As long as only æsthetic values were considered,
all were on nearly the same level, and æsthetically skilled observers
repeatedly expressed their preference for some of the unsuccessful
pictures over some of the successful ones. But as soon as an internal
relation was formed between the pictures and the chocolate, in the one
case a mental harmony resulted which had strong suggestive power, in
the other case a certain unrest and inner disturbance which
necessarily had an inhibiting influence. The picture which was
unsuccessful with the sweets would perhaps have been eminently
successful for tobacco. From such elementary starting-points, the
laboratory experiment might proceed systematically into spheres of
economic life hitherto untouched by scientific methods. The psychology
of the influence of external forms on the conscious reactions of the
masses is so far usually considered only when, as often happens, the
most fundamental demands are violated; for instance, when objects
which are to give the impression of ease are painted in colors which
give a heavy, clumsy appearance, or _vice versa_, when book-bindings
are lettered in archaic type which makes the reading of the title
impossible for a passer-by, and in many similar antipsychological
absurdities which any stroll through the streets of a modern city
forces on us.




XXII

EXPERIMENTS WITH REFERENCE TO ILLEGAL IMITATION


It is perhaps not without interest to turn into a by-path at this
point of our road. All the illustrations which we have picked out so
far have referred to strictly economic conditions. But we ought not to
forget that these economic problems of commerce and industry are
everywhere in contact with legal interests as well. In order to
indicate the manifoldness of problems accessible to the experimental
method, we may discuss our last question, the question of packing and
of labels, in this legal relation too. All the packings, covers,
labels, trademarks, and names by which the manufacturer tries to
stimulate the attention, the imagination, and the suggestibility of
the customer may easily draw a large part of their psychological
effectiveness from without, as soon as they imitate the appearance of
articles which are well introduced and favored in the market. If the
public is familiar with and favorably inclined toward an article on
account of its inner values or on account of its being much
advertised, a similar name or a similar packing may offer efficient
help to a rival article. The law of course protects the label and the
deceiving imitation can be prosecuted. But no law can determine by
general conceptions the exact point at which the similarity becomes
legally unallowable. This creates a situation which has given rise to
endless difficulties in practical life.

If everything were forbidden which by its similarity to an accredited
article might lead to a possible confusion in the mind of the quite
careless and inattentive customer, any article once in the market
would have a monopoly in its line. As soon as a typewriter or an
automobile or a pencil or a mineral water existed, no second kind
could have access to the market, as with a high degree of carelessness
one economic rival may be taken for another, even if the new
typewriter or the new pencil has a new form and color and name. On the
other side, the purchaser could never have a feeling of security if
imitations were considered as still legally justifiable when the
difference is so small that it needs an intense mental effort and
careful examination of details to notice it.

The result is that the jurisdiction fluctuates between these two
extremes in a most alarming way, and this seems to hold true in all
countries. In theory: "There is substantial agreement that
infringement occurs when the marks, names, labels, or packings of one
trader resemble those of another sufficiently to make it probable that
ordinary purchasers, exercising no more care than such persons usually
do in purchasing the article in question, will be deceived." But it
depends upon the trade experts and the judges to give meaning to such
a statement in the particular case, as the amount of care which
purchasers usually exercise can be understood very differently.
Sometimes the customer is expected to proceed with an attention which
is most subtly adjusted to the finest differences, and sometimes it is
taken for granted that he is unable to notice even strong variations.
It is clear that this uncertainty which disturbs the whole trade
cannot be eliminated as long as the psychological background has not
been systematically studied. Mere talking about the attention of the
customer, and his ability to decide and select, and of his
observations and his habits in the spirit of popular common-sense
psychology, can never secure exact standards and definite demarcation
lines. The question is important not only where imitations of morally
doubtful character are in the market. Even the most honest
manufacturer is in a certain sense obliged to imitate his
predecessors, as they have directed the taste and habits of the
public in particular directions, and as the product of his company
would suffer unnecessarily if he were to disregard this psychical
attitude of the prospective customers. The economic legal situation
accordingly suggests the question whether it would not be possible to
devise methods for an exact measurement of the permissible similarity,
and this demand for exactitude naturally points to the methods of the
psychological experiment. E.S. Rogers, Esq., of Chicago, who has
thoroughly discussed the legal aspect of the problem,[53] first turned
my attention to the psychological difficulty involved.

When I approached the question in the Harvard psychological
laboratory, it was clear to me that the degree of attention and
carefulness which the court may presuppose on the part of the customer
can never be determined by the psychologist and his experimental
methods. It would be meaningless, if we tried to discover by
experiments a particular degree of similarity which every one ought to
recognize or a particular degree of attention which would be
sufficient for protection against fraud. Such degrees must always
remain dependent upon arbitrary decision. They are not settled by
natural conditions, but are entirely dependent upon social agreement.
A decision outside of the realm of psychology must fix upon a
particular degree in the scale of various similarity values as the
limit which is not to be passed. The aim of the psychologist can be
only to construct such a scale by which decisions may be made
comparable and by which standards may become possible. The experiment
cannot deduce from the study of mental phenomena what degrees of
similarity ought to be still admissible, but it may be able to develop
methods by which different degrees of similarity can be discriminated
and by which a certain similarity value once selected can always be
found again with objective certainty. After many fruitless efforts I
settled on the following form of experiments, which I hope may bring
us nearer to the attainment of the purpose.

A group of objects is observed for a definite time and after a
definite interval another group of objects is offered for comparison.
This second group is identical with the first in all but one of the
objects, and this is replaced by a similar one. The question is how
often this substitution will be noticed by the observers. I may give
in detail a characterization of the set of experiments in which we are
at present engaged. We are working with picture postal cards, using
many hundred cards of different kinds, but for each one we have one
or several similar cards. As postal cards are generally manufactured
in sets, it is not difficult to purchase pairs of pictures with any
degree of similarity. Two cards with Christmas trees, or two with
Easter eggs, or two with football players, or two with forest
landscapes, and so on, may differ all the way from a slight variation
of color or a hardly noticeable change in the position of details to
variations which keep the same motive or the same general arrangement,
but after all make the card strikingly different. The first step is to
determine for each pair the degree of similarity, on a percentage
basis. To overcome mere arbitrariness, we ask thirty to forty educated
persons to express the similarity value, calling identical postal
cards 100 per cent and two postal cards as different as a colored
flower piece and a black picture of a street scene O. The average
value of these judgments is then considered as expressing the
objective degree of similarity between the two pictures of a pair.
After securing such standard values, we carry on the experiments in
the following form. Six different postal cards, for instance, are seen
on a black background through the opening of a shutter which is closed
after 5 seconds. The six may be made up of a landscape, a building, a
head, a genre scene, and so forth. After 20 seconds the same group of
postal cards is shown once more, except that one is replaced by a
similar one, instead of one church another church building, or instead
of a vase with roses a vase with pinks. If the substituted picture has
the average similarity value of 80 per cent and we make the experiment
with 10 persons, the substitution may be discovered by 7 persons and
remain unnoticed by 3. We can now easily vary every one of the factors
involved. If instead of 6 cards, we take 10, it may be that only 4 out
of 10 persons, instead of 7, will discover the substitution, while if
we take 4 cards instead of 6, perhaps 9 persons out of 10 will
recognize the difference under these otherwise equal conditions. Only
an especially careless observer will overlook it. But instead of
changing the number of objects, we may change the periods of exposure.
If we show the 6 cards only for 2 seconds instead of 5 seconds, the
number of those who recognize the difference may sink from 7 to 5 or
4, and if we make the time considerably longer, we shall of course
reach a point where all 10 will recognize the substitution. The same
holds true of the shortening or lengthening of the time-interval
between the two presentations. The third variable factor is the
similarity itself. If instead of one church, not another church, but a
theatre or a skyscraper is shown, that is, if the similarity value of
80 per cent sinks down to a similarity of 60 per cent or 50 per cent,
the number of those who recognize the substitution will again become
larger; if, on the other hand, the substituted card shows the same
church, only from a slightly different angle, bringing the similarity
value up to 90 per cent or 95 per cent, the number of observers who
recognize the substitution may sink to 2 or 3. To make the experiments
reliable, it is also necessary frequently to mix in cases in which no
substitution at all is introduced.

If these experiments are varied sufficiently and a large mass of
material brought together, we must be able to secure definite formulæ.
We may find that if the critical card appears among 6 cards, is shown
for 5 seconds, and the group is again exposed after 20 seconds, 80 per
cent of the subjects will recognize the substitution of a similar
card, if the degree of similarity is 30 per cent, but only 60 per cent
will recognize it if the degree of similarity is 70 per cent, and only
30 per cent will recognize it if the degree of similarity is 90 per
cent. These are entirely fictitious figures and are only to indicate
the principle. If such an exact formula were definitely discovered, we
should still be unable to say from mere psychological reasoning what
similarity value is legally permissible. If the rules against
infringement are interpreted in a very rigorous spirit, it may seem
desirable to prohibit imitations which are as little similar as those
postal cards which were graded as 40 per cent in our similarity scale,
and if the interpretation is a loose one, it may appear permissible to
have imitations on the market which are as strongly similar as our
postal cards graded at 80 per cent in our similarity scale. All this
would have to be left to the lawmakers and to the judges. But what we
would have gained is this. We could say: if our object exposed for 5
seconds in a group of 6 other objects is replaced after an interval of
20 seconds by an imitation and this change is recognized by 8 persons
among 10, the degree of similarity is 30 per cent and if it is
recognized by 3 out of 10 subjects, the degree of similarity is 90 per
cent. In short, from any percentage of subjects who under these
conditions discovered the substitution, we could determine the degree
of similarity, independent of any individual arbitrariness. If such
methods were accepted by the trade and the courts, it would only be
necessary, to agree on the percentage of similarity which ought to be
permitted, and all uncertainty would disappear. There would be no
wrangling of opposing interests; it would be possible to find out
whether the permitted limit were overstepped or not with an
exactitude similar to that with which the weight or the chemical
constitution of a trade commodity is examined. Certainly the
experiment establishes here conditions which are very different from
those of practical life. The customer who wants to buy a particular
picture postal card which he saw once before and to whom the salesman
offers a similar one, suggesting that it is the same, is facing only
one card and not a group of six. But in practical life the card which
be has seen was not observed with the definite intention of keeping
the memory picture in mind, and months may have passed since it was
seen. The memory picture which the customer has in his consciousness
when he seeks the particular card is much weakened by this
circumstance too. We secure this weakening artificially by the
arrangement of the experiment in placing the card in a group of six or
ten and exposing them for a few seconds only. The force of attention
and the corresponding memory-value are by this distribution diminished
in a definite degree in the case of every single card.

The investigation must include a careful study of the size of the
groups, of the time-relations, of the percentage of correct answers,
all under the point of view of greatest fitness for practical
application. In the Harvard laboratory the research has been carried
on partly with such picture material, partly with word material, and
partly with concrete objects.[54] Whatever the details of the outcome
may be, we hope that the work will lead to results which may, indeed,
make such a psychotechnical use possible. Its principles and formulæ
might easily be adjusted to any marketable material. As a matter of
course, if in future the courts were ever to accept such
psychological, experimental methods, it would be intolerable
dilettantism if such experiments were carried on by lawyers and
district attorneys. It is as true of this economic legal question as
of many other legal psychological problems that its introduction into
the courtroom can become desirable only when psychological experts are
engaged and called in the same way as chemical or medical experts are
invited to the court. On the other hand, there is surely not the
slightest desire on the part of psychologists to be dragged into
humiliating performances like those which not only handwriting
experts, but even psychiatric specialists have had to undergo
repeatedly in sensational court trials. The day for the expert
activity in the courtroom will came for the psychologist only when the
country has attached the expert to the court and has eliminated the
expert retained by the plaintiff or the defendant. But this general
practical question as to the position of the psychologist in the
courtroom and as to the need of a psychological laboratory in
connection with the courts would lead us too far aside.




XXIII

BUYING AND SELLING


The effects which we have studied so far were produced by inanimate
objects, posters or displays, advertisements or labels and packings.
The economic psychotechnics of the future will surely study with
similar methods the effects of the living commercial agencies.
Experiments will trace the exact effects which the salesman or
customer may produce. But here not even a modest beginning can be
discovered, and it would be difficult to mention a single example of
experimental research. The desired psychological influences of the
salesman are not quite dissimilar to those of the printed means of
propaganda. Here, too, it is essential to turn the attention of the
customer to different points, to awaken a vivid favorable impression,
to emphasize the advantages of the goods, to throw full light on them,
and finally to influence the will-decision either by convincing
arguments or by persuasion and suggestion. In either case the point is
to enhance the impulse to buy and to suppress the opposing ideas. Yet
every one of these factors, when it starts from a man and not from a
thing or paper, changes its form. The influence becomes narrower, it
is directed toward a smaller number of persons; but, on the other
hand, it gains just by the new possibility of individualization. The
salesman in the store or the commercial traveler adjusts himself to
the wishes, reactions, and replies of the buyer. Above all, when it
becomes necessary to direct the attention to the decisive points, the
personal agent has the possibility of developing the whole process
through a series of stages so that the attention slowly becomes
focused on one definite point. The salesman observes at first only the
general limits of the interest of the customer as far as it is
indicated by his reactions, but slowly he can find out in this whole
field the region of strongest desires. As soon as he has discovered
this narrower region in which the prospects of success seem to be
greatest, he can systematically eliminate everything which distracts
and scatters the attention. He can discover whether the psyche of the
individual with whom he is dealing can be influenced more strongly by
logical arguments or by suggestion, and how far he may calculate on
the pleasure instincts, on the excitement of emotions, on the impulse
to imitate, on the natural vanity, on the desire for saving, and on
the longing for luxury. In every one of these directions the whole
play of human suggestion may be helpful. The voice may win or destroy
confidence, the statement may by its firmness overcome counter-motives
or by its uncertainty reinforce them. Even hand or arm movements by
their motor suggestion may focus the desires of the customers, while
unskillful, erratic movements may scatter the attention and lead to an
inner oscillation of the will to buy.

At every one of these points the psychological experiment may find a
foothold, and only through such methodological study can the haphazard
proceedings of the commercial world be transformed into really
economic schemes. Indeed, it seems nothing but chance that just this
field is controlled by chance alone. The enormous social interplay of
energies which are discharged in the selling and buying of the
millions becomes utterly planless as soon as salesman and customer
come into contact, and this tremendous waste of energy cannot appear
desirable for any possible interest of civilization. The time alone
which is wasted by useless psychophysical operations in front of and
behind the counter represents a gigantic part of the national budget.
Even the complaints about the long working day of the salesgirls might
be eliminated from the debit account of the national ledger, if the
commercial companies could study the psychical processes in selling
and buying with the same carefulness with which they analyze all
details in preparing the stock and fixing the prices. In the army or
in the fire department, in the railroad service, and even in the
factory, all necessary activities are so arranged that as far as
possible the greatest achievement is secured by the smallest amount of
energy. But when the hundreds of millions of customers in the
civilized world want to satisfy their economic demands in the stores,
the whole dissolves into a flood of talk, because no one has taken the
trouble to examine scientifically the psychotechnics of selling and to
put it on a firm psychological foundation.

The idea of scientific management must be extended from the industrial
concerns to the commercial establishments. The questioning and
answering, the showing and replacing of the goods, the demonstrating
and suggesting by the salesmen, must be brought into an economic
system which saves time and energy, as has been tried with the laborer
in the factory. Wherever economic processes are carried out with
superfluous, haphazard movements, the national resources have to
suffer a loss. The single individual can never find the ideal form of
motion and the ideal process by mere instinct. A systematic
investigation is needed to determine the way to the greatest saving
of energy, and the result ought to be made a binding rule for every
apprentice. How the smallest influences grow by summation may be
illustrated by the experience of a large department store, in which
the expense for delivery of the articles sold was felt as too large an
item in the budget. The hundreds of saleswomen therefore received the
order after every sale of moderate-sized articles not to ask, as
before, "May we send it to you?" but instead, "Will you take it with
you?" Probably none of the many thousand daily customers observed the
difference, the more as it was indifferent to most of them whether
they took the little package home themselves or not. In cases in which
it was inconvenient, they would anyhow oppose the suggestion and
insist that the purchase be sent to them. Yet it is claimed that this
hardly noticeable suggestion led to a considerable saving in the
following year, distinctly felt in the budget of the whole
establishment.

We must not forget, however, that the process of buying deserves the
same psychological interest as that of selling. If psychotechnics is
to be put into the service of a valuable economic task, the goal
cannot possibly be to devise schemes by which the customer may easily
be trapped. The purpose of science cannot be to help any one to sell
articles to a man who does not need them and who would regret the
purchase after quiet thought. The applied psychologist should help the
prospective buyer no less, and must protect him so that his true
intention may become realized in the economic process. Otherwise
through his suggestibility, the determining idea of his goal might
fade in his consciousness and the appeal to his vanity or to his
instincts might awaken an anti-economic desire which he would be too
weak to inhibit. The salesman must know how to use arguments and
suggestions and how to make them effective,[55] but the customer too
must know how to see through a misleading argument and how to resist
mere suggestion.

The postulate that the psychical factors in commercial life are to be
carefully regarded is repeated in more complex form in the wholesale
business and in the stock exchange. It is a perfectly justified and
consistent thought which recently led a large credit bureau to an
effort to base its information on psychological analysis. It is well
known that there are bureaus in which the ledger experiences of a
large circle of companies in the same commercial line are collected,
tabulated, and recorded, thus affording an automatic review of the
occurrences, focusing early attention on doubtful accounts and
pointing out weaknesses in the customers' conditions, as they
develop, as well as evidences of prosperity. The ledger experience
which a single company has with all its customers is tabulated without


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