The WHY of learning environments

The psychology of the supermarket

Supermarkets manage every aspect of the store to influence our buying habits.

When walking around we switch off, like driving a car, we go with the flow and we follow the path of least resistance. This path is the wide perimeter ‘race track’, we only dip in and out of the middle isles as required. Thus the key products, the ones they want you to buy, mainly the branded products and the special offers, are on the perimeter, as that’s where we mainly go.

The Prefrontal Cortex is the area of our brain that weighs up odds and makes considered decisions. It can only handle seven pieces of information at one time, if it is overwhelmed we give up and withdraw. This is why there are isolated products at the end of the isles, they are there so we don’t give up.

When making purchasing decisions, we often rely on our gut. Our gut is when positive cues (used by the Nucleus Accumbens part of the brain) outweigh negative ones (used by the Insula part of the brain). These are those decisions where ‘it just feels right’ and when you arrive home not being able to explain why you bought something. ‘Buy two get one free’ works because we have more to gain (positive cues) and less to lose (negative cues).

Supermarkets emphasise the positives by making the downside of not buying a product more detrimental and they do this by emphasising scarcity. Thus a time limit within which the product is available means you buy it. Limiting the number you can buy means you buy more, only five cans per shopper increases perceptions of scarcity and means you buy five, not one.

80% of our time in supermarkets is not associated with buying products, most of the time is moving about. Thus to make a sale the retailer must capture our attention and get us to slow down, this makes us ‘shoppers’ and not ‘passing traffic’. We can only read between three and six words per second and so word based signs are of little value in getting us to slow down when on the ‘race track’.

Promotional labels and sale signs are red, we are biologically tuned to see things which are red in sharper focus than those which are blue, red signs are readily more visible and so we slow down. 90% of snap judgements about products are based on colour alone. By nature we are tuned to be inquisitive towards novel shapes. It is part of our survival mechanism, if an unusual shape appears we focus our attention on it to see if it is good or bad. Supermarket isles are a constant battleground where products vie for our attention through shape and colour.

Supermarkets prove that manipulating the environment creates the type of behaviour we want. Manipulating the learning environment can create the school behaviours we want.

The psychology of colour

Colour which has a mental and emotional effect on us.

Red gives some people an increased heart rate which leads to more adrenaline being pumped into the blood stream, this creates a sense of urgency and alertness.

Purple is the right balance between stimulation (red) and serenity (blue) that encourages creativity.

Green creates a restful environment. This is because the eye focusses the colour green directly on the retina and thus it is less of a strain on your eye muscles.

Blue is calming and helps you relax, this is why it is most commonly used in bedrooms.

Yellow is associated with food and can cause your tummy to growl. Restaurants, like McDonalds, use these colours. However prolonged exposure leads to irritation as they reflect more light and excessively stimulate a person’s eyes.

Using certain colours can create the behaviours we want in our schools.

 A sense of belonging

Human beings love and need to feel that they belong to something. This is why 70,000 people volunteered to be games makers in London 2012 and why 20 million people applied for the 6.6 million tickets available to watch the games. It is why 14.6 million people watched at least 3 minutes of football during the last season and why people were caught up in endless conversations and forums about Strictly come dancing.

People so desperately want to feel that they belong to something that they will say they did even if they didn’t. This is why more people say they voted for Obama than actually did. This is why more people say they attended the London 2012 opening ceremony than there were actual seats in the stadium.

We love to feel the real sense of belonging and schools and classrooms must create their sense of belonging through what they do. This is why at our school we have special mentions, values awards and a robust merit system.

People don’t like their sense of belonging to be threatened. The Great British Bake off was big news when it was announced to move channel because the worry about a potential new format threatened our belonging to it. The constant change to the X factor format threatened our belonging to it so much that we switched off and viewing figures dropped.

Thus the environment you create can’t keep changing. Human beings need routines, we need to know what to expect. This is why we must have key routines in schools. I have lost count of the number of students who ask me on a Friday if it is special mentions assembly today, even though it always is. On a Thursday they always ask me if it is the quiz today, even though it always is. They need the consistent routine so that there belonging is not threatened.

If you don’t have a sense of belonging at all, it is dangerous. The 2011 London riots mainly involved teenagers and young people, half of the 1000 people arrested were under 20. Rioting spread and seemed to have little connection to initial cause, the protest over Mark Duggan’s death in Tottenham. These people did not feel they belonged to society and so they found something else to belong to, an attack on society. Schools that don’t have a sense of belonging have vandalism.

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