Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Which ads are winners? Your brain knows better than you do

26.04.2012
Study on smokers' brains may mark dawn of a new age in advertising

Advertisers and public health officials may be able to access hidden wisdom in the brain to more effectively sell their products and promote health and safety, UCLA neuroscientists report in the first study to use brain data to predict how large populations will respond to advertisements.

Thirty smokers who were trying to quit watched television commercials from three advertising campaigns, which all ended by showing the phone number of the National Cancer Institute's smoking-cessation hotline. They were asked which commercials they thought would be most effective; they responded that advertising campaigns "A" and "B" would be the best and "C" would be the worst.

The UCLA researchers also consulted experts who work in the anti-smoking field and who have been involved in creating anti-smoking advertisements. These experts agreed that campaigns "A" and "B" were the best and "C" was the worst.

While the smokers watched the advertisements, they underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans at UCLA's Ahmanson–Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, and the neuroscientists focused on part of the medial prefrontal cortex — located in the front of the brain, between the eyebrows — a region that they have found to be especially important in previous persuasion studies.

The researchers found that activity in the medial prefrontal cortex increased much more during advertising campaign "C" than it did during campaign "A," and somewhat more than it did during campaign "B."

"The medial prefrontal cortex predicted 'C' would be the best, 'B' would be second best and 'A' would be the worst — essentially the opposite of what the experts and the participants told us they thought would happen," said the study's senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences.

"We didn't expect how radically different people's predictions would be from the predictions we made based on their brain activity," said Lieberman, one of the founders of social cognitive neuroscience. "We had people telling us one thing and this brain region telling us something diametrically opposed."

Initially, Lieberman and first author Emily Falk, an assistant professor of communication studies and psychology at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, were concerned when they saw the results from the medial prefrontal cortex.

"We were hoping the brain data would add something to the self-reports of our participants," Lieberman said. "Given how different they were from one another, we were afraid our brain data might not end up predicting the real-world outcomes at all."

A few months later, after the advertisements had been broadcast, the authors received the call-volume data from the National Cancer Institute's 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline. They compared the number of people who called the hotline the month before and the month after each of the advertising campaigns was run. All three advertising campaigns were successful in increasing the number of phone calls to the hotline. Campaign "A" more than doubled the number of calls, "B" increased the number of calls more than ten-fold and "C" boosted the number of calls a remarkable thirty-fold. (The advertisements were shown in Michigan, Massachusetts and Louisiana.)

Activity in the medial prefrontal cortex predicted which ads persuaded more people to call the hotline significantly better than the smokers' own thoughts about how successful the ads would be.

The research is published this month in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science, the premier journal for psychological science research, with print publication to follow.

What are the implications for the advertising industry, which often relies, at least partly, on unscientific focus groups?

"If people are making decisions based on what focus groups tell them, here's an important brain region saying, 'No, spend your money a different way,'" Lieberman said. "If I were deciding on an advertising campaign, I would want to know which ads are activating this region the most — that is where I would want to spend my money."

This new research represents "the first thing you could call a neural focus group," Lieberman said.

One reason focus groups can be misleading, he said, is that people often do not know what motivates their own behavior.

"Our brain is built to generate reasons for our actions," Lieberman said, "and we think the reasons we come up with must be true. We believe our own reasons with an intensity that is out of proportion to their accuracy. In this study, we are bypassing people's self-reports and getting at a form of hidden wisdom in the brain.

"We wanted to determine what kind of brain activity serves as the catalyst between people seeing a message and whether they actually change their behavior," he said. "This is the region we identified. We have tested it multiple times, and each time, it has been successful."

John Wanamaker, a 19th-century U.S. department store pioneer, famously said he wasted half the money he spent on advertising, but "the trouble is I don't know which half." Many people since Wanamaker have hoped to predict which advertising campaigns will succeed or fail before committing their advertising dollars.

"We're too late for Wanamaker, but now we have a method for figuring out which ads will succeed," Lieberman said.

The 30 smokers in the study were between the ages of 28 and 69; half were female.

Brain regions associated with thinking analytically have not been consistently associated with whether people change their behavior in these studies, Lieberman said. The medial prefrontal cortex is associated not with analytical thinking but with self-reflection — thinking about our own identity as well as what we like and do not like.

"Persuasive advertising seems to be about getting to people's hearts and their identity," Lieberman said. "We are just at the beginning of this line of research. There are many more questions than answers, but the initial results have been promising."

In research Lieberman and Falk published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2010, greater activity in the same medial prefrontal region was predictive of who would increase their sunscreen usage after seeing persuasive messages about daily sunscreen use.

"We knew from prior studies that this brain region predicted people's behavior change in response to a persuasive message," Lieberman said.

With the new study, Lieberman and his colleagues wanted to know whether they could predict not only people's own behavior but use these brain responses to predict how effective advertisements would be throughout the country.

Persuasion research has many applications, Lieberman noted, "including how teachers can communicate better so their students won't tune out and how doctors can convince patients to stick to their instructions. We all use persuasion in some form or another every day."

Elliot Berkman, a former UCLA graduate student of psychology in Lieberman's laboratory who is currently an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, was a co-author of this new study. Falk earned her UCLA doctorate in psychology, conducting research in Lieberman's laboratory, in 2010.

To view samples of anti-smoking ads, please visit:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf01Ti6bH8U
www.youtube.com/watch?v=dR6odVmNTlw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=weVp5FXVyqM
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us on Twitter.

Stuart Wolpert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucla.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>