Cause and effect

A few of us sat through a presentation today that started with a bit of a love story. It involves Louis, a giant Pacific octopus who lives at the Newquay Blue Reef Aquarium  in Cornwall, UK. We were told that Louis had been pretty miserable, until at Christmas he was given a Mr. Potato Head to play with in his tank. He loves it.

Louis was used in this presentation in the context of shopping in order to demonstrate how a small change in our environment can lead to a dramatic change in behavior. However, when you look into the story some more, it turns out Mr. Potato Head is not only an interesting, colorful, tactile toy to enrich his existence in a tank, but it is also a way to deliver tasty treats to Louis. There was further license taken in the story told as it’s not exactly clear that he was that miserable before hand! Among the brightest of the cephalopods, Louis needs mental stimulation and Mr. Potato Head delivers. So what has caused his excitement and interest is under question. Was it the addition of the interesting toy, or the addition of the treats?

Either way, it was an interesting metaphor (in the context of the presentation, perhaps less so here) for us to consider in shopping environments, where we need to introduce new stimuli in order to engage people and change behaviors. This little story also highlights the difficulty of isolating effects when more than one variable is changed at the same time. We also need to be mindful that in changing one thing, we may have another as yet unknown or undesirable affect somewhere else in close proximity – after all, we don’t know how his other tank mates feel that he gets all the great toys!

– Image courtesy of