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Why We Like What We Like

Coffee or Tea - Sunday Shades

Are you a coffee or tea person? Or neither? Why do you like the colour blue? Or if blue is not your colour, red? Or green? In a 2015 survey done by YouGov, blue is the clear winner for Singaporeans, followed by red and green. On the other hand, while Hong Kongers picked blue as their number 1 choice, their second and third favourite colours are purple and pink. So, it begs the question, why do we like certain colours? Why do we like what we like?

Scientists are baffled by it: why do we like some things and feel disgusted by others? Are we somehow hardwired, as if our preferences are coded in our DNAs? Or are we nurtured to like or dislike things? Or a bit of both?

Exposure

Perhaps it might be due to the reason suggested by psychologists such as Robert Zajonc about the “exposure” effect. He said, “mere repeated exposure of the individual to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the enhancement of his attitude toward it.” In other words, the more times you see or try something, you like it more. On the flip side, sometimes after we’re overexposed to something, we might end up loathing it. Think: “Gangnam Style”. Hated it, loved it, hated it even more.

Association

In 2007 a guy in a baseball cap played his violin at a subway station. Over 1000 people passed him by. He earned $32, not bad for 45 minutes of fiddling on his violin. But that’s the average collection for someone busking anyway. What people didn’t know, this was not just some average dude. He was Joshua Bell, a world-renown violinist and conductor. He’s certainly worth a lot more and would have garnered a lot more attention had people known who was performing that day.

In his book, “How Pleasure Works”, Yale University professor Paul Bloom noted “Pleasure is affected by deeper factors including what the person thinks about the true essence of what he or she is getting pleasure from." He surmises that in the Joshua Bell instance, if people knew it was Joshua Bell performing, they will like it more if they believed it was from Joshua Bell. The same feelings can’t be derived from some anonymous performer, even though it’s the same music with the same level of skills.

In other words, the same plate of food or wine wouldn’t taste as good had you not known the price or brand. Or, an old painting would have been discarded unless we know that it was a Rembrandt or Da Vinci.

Was it a mere ‘believe’ that caused us to like something or was it snobbery as some would call it?

Vision

Speaking of snobbery, the world of wine connoisseurs was rattled in a famous experiment conducted in 2001. Frédéric Brochet, then a PhD candidate at the University of Bordeaux II in Talence, France, dyed a white wine red. He then gave it to 54 oenology (wine science students to taste. The supposed experts were all fooled and described the adulterated white wine with the characteristics of a red.  His research also showed that ‘vision’ trumps everything else. So, what is to stop an unscrupulous wine seller from ‘mislabelling’ a cheaper wine with a nice label and a vintage year printed on it? In the foregoing experiment, it appears that the conclusions made by the oenologists were not objectively based on the intrinsic qualities of the wine, but by what they saw – and that overwhelmingly affected their judgement.

Nurture

Numerous studies have proven that music has a role in brain development of the unborn child. During the second trimester, at around the 16 weeks of pregnancy, the baby can hear its very first sound from the womb. By the 24th week, the ears start to develop rapidly and the unborn baby will start to recognize the mother’s voice, language and even speech patterns. In other studies, it has been shown that babies grew up to like certain food because the foetuses have been exposed to them when in the womb.

Interestingly, some tastes may indeed be hardwired. Foetuses swallow more amniotic fluid when it is sweet, as opposed to when it is bitter. So it seems that our sugar cravings are innate.

Culture

We do not discount that cultural influence can play an important role in our choices or preference. As mentioned in YouGov survey at the beginning of the article, blue is the undisputed favourite among those surveyed. But is this colour preference hard-wired or learned? Was it suggested us through repeated exposure: for the sky is blue. Interestingly, in an obvious East-West divide, researchers have found that American colour preferences were different from Japanese preferences, suggesting a cultural influence on colour preference. 

Dictated Influence

Our fashion sense are influenced by celebrities and fashion models. In others words, such ‘influencers’ basically sold what they thought as fashionable when they are dressed or groomed in a certain way. In turn, the impressionable, who seek to identify with their idols, were sold with that fashion. The models themselves are sold by the vision created by the designers. Retailers are sold by they see on catwalks, magazines, social media. Retailers are also influenced by one another as when they see certain styles are more successful by their competition they will also feature such styles from their racks. Ultimately, we are dressed in the fashion of the day dictated by the retailers. Not that we don’t have a choice, but it’s going to be a real hassle to design something original, have it measured, drawn and stitched up just because we want to be different.

It is the same with our sense of beauty when it comes to body type. Up until the 19th century, artists like Rembrandt, and Rubens portrayed what they thought as a beautiful woman as voluptuous and round. To a certain degree, that was also true of artists in the East, particularly during the Tang dynasty in China.

Yet, today’s sense of beauty among women has changed. In extreme cases, waif-like thinness is the “in thing”. Such ideals are not only promoted by fashion houses, but also by online challenges. Viral trends promoted by netizens like the “collarbone” challenge which had girls balancing coins behind their collarbones further exacerbated this obsession trend with extreme thinness.

Some people also bemoaned the “death” of the macho male as more and more young men are subscribing to the metrosexual dress and grooming sense. In China, they’re called jing zhu nan (‘exquisite piggy men’) and it has sparked a lot of debate on whether men are becoming more like women.

Whether you agree with a particular fashion trend or not, it remains that why we like what we like is not so straightforward. There are so many factors that will influence us in our likings and choices.

On the other hand, certain pleasures are universal. Such as when we see a beautiful scenery, or the smile on a person’s face. The warm touch from, or even the mere sight of a loved one may bring much pleasure to us. We are often touched by a simple act of kindness. 👍

At Sunday Shades, we are in the business of bringing happiness to people. Our customers are spoilt by choice over the range of colours we have in store. Regardless of your favourite colours, we are certain we have something that you like. Our customers also rave about the practicality of our sunglasses : the snug fit, the comfort and the protection Sunday Shades offers. Check out the full range here.