Category Archives: Neuromarketing

Inside The Decision-Making Brain

anterior_ insula

The anterior insula was sensitive to escalating alcohol costs especially when the costs of drinking outweighed the benefits, indicating this could be the region of the brain at the intersection of how our rational and irrational systems work with one another.

Although choosing to do something because the perceived benefit outweighs the financial cost is something people do daily, little is known about what happens in the brain when a person makes these kinds of decisions. Studying how these cost-benefit decisions are made when choosing to consume alcohol, University of Georgia associate professor of psychology James MacKillop identified distinct profiles of brain activity that are present when making these decisions.*

The study combined functional magnetic resonance imaging and a bar laboratory alcohol procedure to see how the cost of alcohol affected people’s preferences. The study group included 24 men, age 21-31, who were heavy drinkers. Participants were given a $15 bar tab and then were asked to make decisions in the fMRI scanner about how many drinks they would choose at varying prices, from very low to very high. Their choices translated into real drinks, at most eight that they received in the bar immediately after the scan. Any money not spent on drinks was theirs to keep.

The study applied a neuroeconomic approach, which integrates concepts and methods from psychology, economics and cognitive neuroscience to understand how the brain makes decisions. In this study, participants’ cost-benefit decisions were categorized into those in which drinking was perceived to have all benefit and no cost, to have both benefits and costs, and to have all costs and no benefits. In doing so, MacKillop could dissect the neural mechanisms responsible for different types of cost-benefit decision-making.

When participants decided to drink in general, activation was seen in several areas of the cerebral cortex, such as the prefrontal and parietal cortices. However, when the decision to drink was affected by the cost of alcohol, activation involved frontostriatal regions, which are important for the interplay between deliberation and reward value, suggesting suppression resulting from greater cognitive load. This is the first study of its kind to examine cost-benefit decision-making for alcohol and was the first to apply a framework from economics, called demand curve analysis, to understanding cost-benefit decision making.

The brain activity was most differentially active during the suppressed consumption choices, suggesting that participants were experiencing the most conflict. We had speculated during the design of the study that the choices not to drink at all might require the most cognitive effort, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Once people decided that the cost of drinking was too high, they didn’t appear to experience a great deal of conflict in terms of the associated brain activity. McKillop

These conflicted decisions appeared to be represented by activity in the anterior insula, which has been linked in previous addiction studies to the motivational circuitry of the brain. Not only encoding how much people crave or value drugs, this portion of the brain is believed to be responsible for processing interceptive experiences, a person’s visceral physiological responses.

It was interesting that the insula was sensitive to escalating alcohol costs especially when the costs of drinking outweighed the benefits. That means this could be the region of the brain at the intersection of how our rational and irrational systems work with one another. In general, we saw the choices associated with differential brain activity were those choices in the middle, where people were making choices that reflect the ambivalence between cost and benefits. Where we saw that tension, we saw the most brain activity. McKillop

While MacKillop acknowledges the impact this research could have on neuromarketing–or understanding how the brain makes decisions about what to buy–he is more interested in how this research can help people with alcohol addictions.

“These findings reveal the distinct neural signatures associated with different kinds of consumption preferences. Now that we have established a way of studying these choices, we can apply this approach to better understanding substance use disorders and improving treatment,” he said, adding that comparing fMRI scans from alcoholics with those of people with normal drinking habits could potentially tease out brain patterns that show what is different between healthy and unhealthy drinkers. “In the past, we have found that behavioral indices of alcohol value predict poor treatment prognosis, but this would permit us to understand the neural basis for negative outcomes.”

*The research was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology March 3.


Your Brain On Buzz. How Do Ideas Spread On The Internet?

Brain regions TPJ and DMPFC (Click for description) Psychologists report for the first time that the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called 'buzz.'

Psychologists report for the first time that the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called ‘buzz.’

How do ideas spread? What messages will go viral on social media, and can this be predicted?

UCLA psychologists have taken a significant step toward answering these questions, identifying for the first time the brain regionsassociated with the successful spread of ideas, often called “buzz.”

The research has a broad range of implications, the study authors say, and could lead to more effective public health campaigns, more persuasive advertisements and better ways for teachers to communicate with students.

“Our study suggests that people are regularly attuned to how the things they’re seeing will be useful and interesting, not just to themselves but to other people,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and author of the forthcoming book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.”

We always seem to be on the lookout for who else will find this helpful, amusing or interesting, and our brain data are showing evidence of that. At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be interesting to other people. We’re wired to want to share information with other people. I think that is a profound statement about the social nature of our minds.

The study findings are published in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science, with print publication to follow later this summer.
More information on the study can be found on the UCLA website.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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.

A team led by psychology professor Ian Spence at the University of Toronto reveals that playing an action videogame, even for a relatively short time, causes differences in brain activity and improvements in visual attention.

A miniature atom-based magnetic sensor developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has passed an important research milestone by successfully measuring human brain activity. Experiments reported this week inBiomedical Optics Express verify the sensor’s potential for biomedical applications such as studying mental processes and advancing the understanding of neurological diseases.

A key protein, which may be activated to protect nerve cells from damage during heart failure or epileptic seizure, has been found to regulate the transfer of information between nerve cells in the brain. The discovery, made by neuroscientists at the University of Bristol and published in Nature Neuroscience and PNAS, could lead to novel new therapies for stroke and epilepsy.

Practices like physical exercise, certain forms of psychological counseling and meditation can all change brains for the better, and these changes can be measured with the tools of modern neuroscience, according to a review article now online at Nature Neuroscience.

A computer game designed to lift teenagers out of depression is as effective as one-on-one counselling, New Zealand doctors reported on Thursday in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).


How Brain Science Turns Browsers into Buyers


How to use your brain for business success

I was interviewed last week by  Conn Ó Muíneacháin of Edgcast Media for the  Small Business Show on the topic of using your brain to maximum effect in business.

Brain science is playing an increasing role in business and we talked about what the specific characteristics associated with entrepreneurship are and I outlined what makes the brain of an entrepreneur different.

You can catch up on our chat online and listen to a podcast of the show by clicking on the link below.

http://www.focusmeireland.com/business-and-the-brain-an-interview-with-professor-billy-oconnor

Related Post

What can neuroscience teach marketers? 


Money Troubles? Blame your Brain!

What can neuroscience teach us about financial risk?

Neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology report that the amygdalae – two almond-shaped clusters of tissue located deep in the brain and which register rapid emotional reactions – are responsible for the fear of losing money.

In a previous blog post I described how the size of your amygdala (plural; amygdalae) is related to the size of your social network. Well it gets a lot more interesting!  A recent study of amygdala-damaged patients – described in a paper entitled Amygdala damage eliminates monetary loss aversion in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – may also offer insight into the state of your monthly bank balance.

The study involved an examination of two patients whose amygdalae had been destroyed due to a very rare genetic disease; those patients, along with individuals without amygdala damage, volunteered to participate in a simple gambling task.

In the task, all individuals were asked whether or not they were willing to accept a variety of gambles, each with a different possible gain or loss.

For example, all individuals were asked to choose from the following three gambles.

  1. Take a gamble to win $20 or lose $5 (a risk most people will choose to accept).
  2. Take a gamble to win $20 or lose $20 (a risk most people will not choose to accept).
  3. Take a gamble to win $20 or lose $15 (a risk most people will reject even though the net expected outcome here is positive).

It turns out that both of the amygdala-damaged patients took risky gambles much more often and showed no aversion to monetary loss whatsoever, in sharp contrast to those individuals of the same age and education who had no amygdala damage.

The findings suggest that the amygdala is critical for triggering a sense of caution toward making gambles in which you might lose – similar to its role in fear and anxiety. Your brain’s very own Fort Knox!

Who knows but sometime in the future we may be required to undergo a brain scan to check the size of our amygdalae in order to qualify for a credit card, enrol for a business degree or manage a bank!

Maybe the next ten years of brain research should be dedicated – the decade of the amygdala – to help us relearn a healthy sense of respect for money and get us back into the black?


Weekly Round Up

Are teenage brains wired to predict the next big music hit?

The brain is constantly changing as it perceives the outside world, processing and learning about everything it encounters. In a new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, scientists find a surprising connection between two types of perception: If you’re looking at a group of objects and getting a general sense of them, it’s difficult for your brain to learn relationships between the objects.

Recent research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.suggests that the activity in teen brains may have some Nostradamus-like qualities when it comes to predicting the hits or misses of popular music.

Fear burns memories into our brain, and new research by University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists explains how in findings that have implications for the treatment of PTSD.

Ands speaking of memory…have you forgotten where you put your keys recently? Your brain might be in a better state to recall where you put them at some times than at others, according to new research from UC Davis.


What can neuroscience teach marketers?

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing that studies consumers’ response to marketing stimuli. Researchers use technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain, electroencephalography (EEG) to measure activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and/or sensors to measure changes in one’s physiological state (heart rate, respiratory rate, galvanic skin response) to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.


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