This section is from the book "Applications of Psychology to the Problems of Personal and Business Efficiency", by Warren Hilton. Also available from Amazon: Psychology and Achievement - Applied Psychology 12 Volume Set.
DISSOCIATION and its extreme result, forgetfulness, are not necessarily either abnormal or unhealthy. They are the mental processes that save us from a scattering of the mind that amounts to distraction.
Look out of the window. Imagine what meaningless confusion of light and shade and color you would have before you if some sense-impressions were not emphasized and others ignored. You can, if you try, distinguish every brick in the wall of the building across the way. Yet, thanks to dissociation, you get only the high lights, and what you really see is the building as an entirety. Some weeks ago I attended a dinner of the local Harvard Club. A spirit of good-fellowship reigned. The stories told, the jokes that were perpetrated, the songs that were sung, aroused the greatest enthusiasm and applause. Every number on the program was a "hit," and everyone had the best of "good times." The next day I tried to recount some of the funny stories I had heard, but to my surprise they not only fell flat but I myself was unable to discover anything particularly clever or witty in them. The fact is that the pleasure I had experienced in hearing them before was not due solely to the stories themselves; it was supplemented and re-enforced by other elements. The gayly decorated hall, the bright lights, the spirit of festivity and fun, all had contributed to the effect.
At any given moment we may be receiving simultaneous impressions through all the organs of sense, eyes, ears, nose, and so on, and at the same time be thinking of past experiences. These elements do not stand independent and isolated in consciousness. They all combine to produce a general effect that may be pleasurable or disagreeable.
The important phase of this from a practical standpoint is that in forming our first impression of things that we hear or feel or see we do not first sense the individual elements and then put them together. We first receive a general impression of the whole, which we may later analyze into its component elements. And the extent of this analysis depends upon the frequency with which the experience occurs and upon the character of our interest.
To the infant mind a horse is a horse, with none of the radical distinctions and differences that are all-important to the judges in a horse-show. To the unimaginative mind, "a primrose by a river's brim a yellow primrose was to him, and it was nothing more." It revealed none of the marvels that would be so apparent to, say, the poet or the botanist.
So far as we are concerned, all things are interdependent. We see them only in their relationships. And these relationships constitute an integral part of the thing itself as we see it and know it. The clay that the sculptor works with is pure and clean, but, on the face and hands of the man who digs it, it is plain dirt. The food we eat may be ever so dainty, but it "soils" the napkin.
The fact that every object thus fuses with its environment and assumes the atmosphere of its surroundings is unconsciously recognized by most business men. It should be carefully considered by all.
Why does the bank in a great city house itself in an imposing masonry structure with walls four feet thick?
Is it only for greater security against fire and thieves? Is it not because of the confidence awakened in the depositors by this atmosphere of permanence and stability and vast resources?
Every store and office has an air of its own, and everything it offers, everything it does, is seen through this atmosphere. An acquaintance of mine wanted to buy a diamond. He had a friend who was a jeweler thoroughly honest and financially responsible. This jeweler offered him the kind of stone he wanted at a net trade price. But the jeweler's store was of the "cheap-John" variety. Its windows were full of cheap novelties. And my acquaintance paid a much higher price for his diamond at the palatial and exclusive establishment across the way.
The psychology of color plays an important part in salesmanship, and even in the wider conduct of affairs. The appeal, or lack of appeal, of colors to human sympathy, is well worth your careful attention. Your store may be situated equally as well as that of your competitor, yet he may outsell you simply because he knows how to make his place attractive by color-groupings. The customer will prefer his store to yours and never know why.
If you are a salesman you should realize that it is unwise to let a customer view one after another of a number of pieces of goods of practically the same color. Civilization has brought refinement of the color sense. A child will fill its arms with red roses. The woman of refined taste combines a single red rose with a spray of green leaves. Your buyer has a trained color sense, and you must make a subtle and discriminating appeal to it.
Be careful how you arrange your goods on shelves. Every color takes on to the eye a different hue when placed beside another color.
Do not use a highly finished wood of definite color as a background for your pictures or your show-window. Everything in a color not complementary to such a background will suffer by contrast.
Furnish your library, office or director's room in a harmony of subdued tones, such as olives, browns or grays. They will make concentrated thinking easier.
The lawyer whose office is musty, dirty and poorly furnished may build up a good clientele, but he is working under a tremendous handicap. The doctor may be personally immaculate, but no one will think so if he lives in an ill-kept house. You may be told that a certain store is the best place to purchase the article you need, but if you find that the whole establishment has a general air of shoddiness it will be hard to believe that the article it offers is of good quality. We cannot help feeling a greater respect for the firm that advertises in high-class magazines than for the one that employs handbills. We would certainly never patronize the manufacturer of food products who posted his advertisements on garbage boxes.
"A man is known by the company he keeps." This statement is just as true of things as it is of persons. The diamonds you have for sale may be of the first water and just what you represent them to be, but if the other things you have for sale are plated and pretentious -shams I would be inclined to feel that your diamonds, too, were paste.
If you are selling stock in a new corporation, do not guarantee unusual profits unless you want your prospective purchaser to assume a skeptical attitude suspicious of fraud. Instead, simply array your facts in the most telling way you can and content yourself with the simple assurance that the profits will be "satisfactory." Your "prospect" will draw his own conclusions, and they, too, will be "satisfactory."
In these days business is done quickly and first impressions go a long way. The average man or woman does not take time for a careful critical analysis. He does not take a thing out of its environment, and set it apart for purposes of analytical study. Arguments are considered in conjunction with the personality and appearance of the man who makes them. Events are viewed in the light of surrounding circumstances. Objects are fused with the environment in which they are seen. If you have a store to arrange, or an advertisement to place, or salesmen to employ, or offices to furnish, it will pay you to consider the tendency of the human mind that we have been describing.
Dissociation is the faculty that enables us to distinguish any object from its environment. Were it not for dissociation all sense-impressions would fuse into a blurred totality of confusion worse confounded. Each element would serve but to cloud and conceal all the others. Dissociation, when normal, is therefore an economizing mental process, a systematizing process, and it is controlled by the attention as fixed by desire, interest and will.
Attention and dissociation have their share in absolutely all mental activity. They operate not only to determine what department of subconsciousness the dissociated elements of experience shall fall into, but to determine also just what memories and just what present sense-impressions shall go to make up the present consciousness. We have been dealing with these discriminating tendencies so far as they affect our memory of past experience. We shall now discuss them as restricting the volume of the "stream" of consciousness.