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Creating Cognitive Arousal


Explanations > Motivation > Creating Cognitive Arousal

Possibility | Tensions | Flow | So what?


Cognitive arousal is the arousal based on reason and rational thought. It is helpful to get people thinking this way if you want them to make a rational choice. Here's how to get them going.

Possibility: Curiosity/interest

Curiosity is the desire to learn more, to discover interesting or useful facts. It seeks to complete understanding, to assess threats and explore opportunities. Interest is both fascination in the moment and a general interest in particular topics, from fishing to football.

To arouse curiosity, hint at possibility rather than present everything up front. Sustain interest by dribbling in a constant stream of new information that promises to help the person meet needs and achieve goals.

Tensions: Resolution/creation

Resolution of outstanding tensions shows value in cognitive arousal. If you can help them with the 'aha' of learning or the 'hurrah' of problems solved then they will be very grateful.

Tensions arouse and motivate, and helping them resolve tensions gives space (and permission) for more. Cognitive tensions include problems, puzzles and philosophical thoughts. People enjoy things to think about when they feel they can provide an answer (this is the appeal of 'whodunnit' stories).

Flow: Engagement, challenge

When people get really involved in what they are doing they enter a state of 'flow' where they lose track of time and self. And when they come back to themselves there is often a strong sense of enjoyment.

Get them engaged by posing challenges that they feel they can achieve, though these should not be too difficult. Give them sufficient time and resources, but not so much they relax.

So what?

Creating cognitive arousal when you want people to engage mentally, using their brains in intelligent ways to solve problems and think carefully about what you are telling them. This is more effective with people who like thinking and who consider themselves to be more intelligent than most.

Cognitive arousal particularly helps when you want to change minds permanently. If people think about your proposals and agree with them after careful thought, then they are likely to stick with the agreement over the longer term.

See also

Arousal principle


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