Facebook has been in hot water recently after news broke that they had conducted a psychological experiment on 700,000 of their unsuspecting users. Facebook’s Data Science team intentionally manipulated users’ feeds to see whether promoting different types of content could alter a user’s emotions, and then published a study detailing the results of their experiment. The study has been heavily criticized, in large part because users were not asked for consent to participate. Facebook has been moving more and more into the realm of digital advertising; it is not a leap to see these psychological findings being used to increase profits.

Facebook manipulated users’ choices without their consent — but is it the only company to have done so? Companies collectively spend over $6 billion annually on consumer behavior research, and they continue to use principles of psychology and persuasion to increase profits. They use the information gleaned from this research to influence — often without the consumer’s knowledge or awareness — what they buy, how they buy, when they buy, and even how much they spend. Are your choices really your own, or are they the result of successful marketing, and emotional manipulation using proven principles of persuasion?

Choice When You Go to a Restaurant

The restaurant industry is a lucrative field that draws many players eager to try their luck. It is, however, a highly competitive industry as well — about 60% of restaurants fail within three years of opening. For those in the foodservice industry, it pays to understand exactly what influences consumers, and many of the most popular chains have consumer principles of psychology and persuasion down to a science.

Do you choose when to leave the restaurant, or are psychological principles influencing your departure? Studies have shown that if slow music is playing, customers will stay 13.56 minutes longer, and spend 11% more on food. If there’s alcohol being purchased, customers spend 40% more than if they were listening to fast music.

If the restaurant is playing jazz, people spend more money than if any other type of music is playing (or no music at all!)

Is the amount that you eat determined by your hunger, or by the lighting level and method? Studies show that consumers will enjoy their meal more, yet consume 18% fewer calories when the lighting is softer.

Is the amount of your tip based upon service alone? Men tip more on average if their waitress wears a red shirt. Regardless of gender, when servers deliver a mint with the check, tips increase by 3%. When two mints are given, average gratuity is correspondingly 25% higher. The principles of persuasion involved here are perceived value and reciprocity: Give something first, and people are encouraged to return the favor.

Shelf Placement Uses Persuasion to Increase Profits

Are you picking an item off of a shelf because you want it and selected it based on what you need, or because you’ve been engineered through consumer principles of psychology and triggers to choose it?

Consumers are more likely to buy something if they pick it up — in studies, people report an increased sense of “ownership” upon merely touching an object. For this reason, multiple psychological cues exist that encourage people to pick items up in stores. Everything from the spacing of products to the lighting can alter the likelihood of consumers choosing to pick up — and therefore buy — the products they see. People with a tendency to make unplanned purchases spend an average of $32.89 more when music is playing, but $8.66 less if the room smells like citrus.

By contrast, people who are more contemplative shoppers spend $1 less if music is playing, but $5.70 more if the room smells like citrus.

Do you like more options, or fewer? Hick’s Law says that choice is actually a demotivating factor, and studies prove it. In one example: when 24 types of jam are placed on display, 60% of people try a sample, and 3% make a purchase.

When six jams are on display, 40% try the jam, and 30% make a purchase. Why? With too many choices, it’s hard to differentiate between products. With fewer choices, the differences become more obvious, and the choice is psychologically easier to make.

This Post You’re Reading, Right Now

All websites, including Facebook, are ultimately concerned with making sure that you not only click on their page, but you stay there longer as well. Everything from the font they use, to the colors used on the object that the designer would like you to click can influence your viewing decisions. How are the principles of psychology being used right now?

Do you like this post because of the content, or the associated images? Instagram photos increase ad conversion rates by 25%. Consumers are currently developing a marketing blindness to stock photos.

Do you always understand what you’re reading? Better use of white spacing will increase reading comprehension by 20%.

Are you competitive, or responsive to color? People will bid higher on an eBay item if the item is set up with a red background.

What Facebook Did Isn’t Remarkable

Facebook’s invasion into user privacy, and its constant reaping of consumer information for the sake of marketing manipulation, has had users complaining for almost as long as the site has existed. And while consumers might complain, Facebook doesn’t seem to be hurting much. The company just released its latest earnings report, and profits have doubled for its ninth quarter -- and one fifth of the world’s population now logs on to Facebook at least once a month.

"Is it okay for Facebook to play mind games with us?” A Forbes.com blogger asked recently. When you look at the full range of studies and information about the ways companies intentionally alter consumer behavior, and compare it to what Facebook did with its user data, it becomes clear that their actions were not remarkable. With competition within the social media world expanding, and small businesses looking at new options for SEO, Facebook’s shareholders would be upset if every step wasn’t taken to increase profits.

Instead, Facebook’s actions were only remarkable for the fact that they were caught, and that consumers were able to, for once, see beneath the surface of the marketing psychology being used on them every day of their lives.