Advertisers, neuroscientists combine forces to produce outlandish headlines:
Advertisers, neuroscientists trace source of emotions in brainTuesday, February 19, 2008Not only outlandish headlines, the holy grail of "mind reading" is within the grasp of their PR department. Perhaps they should consult Shinkareva et al. (2008)...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — First came direct marketing, then focus groups. Now, advertisers, with the help of neuroscientists, are closing in on the holy grail: mind reading.
At least, that’s what is suggested in a paper published today in the journal Human Brain Mapping authored by a group of professors in advertising and communication and neuroscience at the University of Florida [Morris et al., 2008].
The Florida press release continues:
It remains to be seen, however, whether someone's fMRI results will be able to predict their future purchasing behavior, and if so, whether this predictive power will be superior to traditional (and much cheaper) marketing methods.1
The seven researchers [Morris, Klahr, Shen, Villegas, Wright, He, Liu] used sophisticated brain-scanning technology to record how subjects’ brains responded to television advertisements, while simultaneously collecting the subjects’ reported impressions of the ads. By comparing the two resulting data sets, they say, they pinned down specific locations in the brain as the seat of many familiar emotions that ripple throughout it. The feat is another step toward gauging how people feel directly through functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, and other brain-scanning technology — without relying on what they claim to be feeling, the researchers say.
“We are getting to the heart of the matter by really showing this process in the brain, and how it works,” said Jon Morris, a professor of advertising and communications and lead author of the article. “We feel that this can be used to find out what people really feel about something, whether an advertisement or any other stimulus.”
OK, so what did the experiment entail? The study used a three-dimensional self-report technique to examine subjects' emotional response to TV commercials in the scanner. The specific dimensions were pleasure-displeasure, arousal-calm, and dominance-submissiveness (PAD), but emotional responses were assessed through "nonverbal" responses, not the verbal labels. Now here's where things get a bit methodologically fuzzy, so I'll just quote the authors (and ask any experts to comment pro or con):
The self-report data was derived from responses to the Advertisement Self-Assessment Manikins (AdSAM®) scale2 (Morris et al., 2005). This scale provides a nonverbal, cross-cultural, visual measure of emotional response that measures the dimensions of pleasure, arousal, and dominance, and we therefore suggest is a better tool than a verbal technique that requires respondents to cognitively translate their reactions into words before reporting their feelings.3 Thus, we postulate that this methodology, grounded in psychological literature since the 1950s, should be the basis of emotional detection in the brain.What commercials were shown? Ads for Evian, Coke, and Gatorade, plus two public service announcements (Be a Hero and Anti-Fur). How were they chosen?
The five commercials presented were all broadcasted [sic] more than 10 years ago to avoid the likelihood of the participants having previously seen them on television.Huh, that's interesting, because the date on the Gatorade "23 vs. 39" video at YouTube says 12/23/02, and the commercial aired during the 2003 Superbowl. Last I checked, it's not 2013, and Michael Jordan was not 39 in 1992.
Here's a description of the Gatorade commercial (Morris et al., 2008):
The fourth commercial was for the sports drink Gatorade. It showcases special effects of a 23-year-old Michael Jordan, in a Chicago Bulls uniform, playing the modern-day Michael Jordan in a one-on-one grudge match. A 1987 version of Jordan's head was digitally placed on the torso of an actual performance double playing against the real 39-year-old Jordan. The two engage in the one-on-one basketball, which shows the older-but-wiser Jordan schooling his younger, more energetic self.On the other hand, the Mean Joe Green Coke commercial is ancient (October 1979).
It shows a young boy offering his Coke bottle outside the locker room after a football game to Mean Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers. At first Mean Joe Green politely declines but then changes his mind, accepts the Coke bottle, and passes his jersey to the young boy as a return gift.How did the consumers, er, study participants rate the commercials?
Figure 1 (Morris et al., 2008). Each of the five commercials is represented by a different color (Teacher = blue, Evian = yellow, Coke = red, Gatorade = green, Anti-Fur = brown). Figure 1a illustrates that the Anti-Fur commercial is significantly lower than the other four commercials for the mean Pleasure scores. Figure 1b illustrates that that the Gatorade and Anti-Fur commercials combined are significantly higher than the Teacher and Coke commercials combined on mean Arousal scores.
And how about reading the minds of consumers? Quite frankly, we're not talking about fine-grained distinctions here:
The AdSAM pleasure scores of four stimuli (Teacher, Evian, Coke, and Gatorade) were significantly higher than that of the Anti-Fur commercial (see Fig. 1). The disturbing content of the Anti-Fur Commercial that included a scene showering blood most likely contributed to this intense unpleasant emotion. When the imaging data of the first four commercials were contrasted to those of the Anti-Fur commercial, significant differences were identified in brain regions that are known to be associated with emotional valence. These regions included the bilateral IFG [inferior frontal gyrus, BA47] and the bilateral MTG [middle temporal gyrus, BA21] which have been found to be associated with emotional responses. [NOTE: really? the MTG as a bastion of emotional responses?]It might be overkill to show Figure 2, with its zany-looking hemodynamic response functions spanning 30 sec (the commercials were either 30 sec or 1 min long), or to belabor certain choices in data analysis:
A statistical threshold was set to P less than 0.052 corrected with a minimum cluster size of 150 voxels when comparing the BOLD signal between the tasks. [NOTE: p less than .052? why?]Or you can check out activations in the ventricles on page 6 of this PDF.
Even NeuroscienceMarketing.com is skeptical:
At least as reported, the conclusions seem less than startling:At first glance, this statement seems on a par with “Hillary Clinton was found to cause negative reactions in some subjects” in terms of being blandly obvious.4
Where the researchers compared the AdSAM data on pleasure-displeasure and excitement-calm to the fMRI data, they found simultaneous spikes in four different and highly localized areas of the brain. According to the article, the findings suggest “that human emotions are multidimensional, and that self-report techniques … correspond to a specific task but different functional regions of the brain.”
1 Although any number of neuromarketing companies would have you believe this is the case.
2 Is this an example of Subneuromarketing?® (SK)
3 This approach appears to be diametrically opposed to affect labeling.
4 See also this now-classic Neurocritic quote (about the infamous This Is Your Brain on Politics Op-Ed):
Did we really need fMRI to tell us that Mrs. Clinton should try to soften the negative responses of swing voters?References
Morris JD, Klahr NJ, Shen F, Villegas J, Wright P, He G, Liu Y. (2008). Mapping a multidimensional emotion in response to television commercials. Human Brain Mapping DOI: 10.1002/hbm.20544
Unlike previous emotional studies using functional neuroimaging that have focused on either locating discrete emotions in the brain or linking emotional response to an external behavior, this study investigated brain regions in order to validate a three-dimensional construct - namely pleasure, arousal, and dominance (PAD) of emotion induced by marketing communication. Emotional responses to five television commercials were measured with Advertisement Self-Assessment Manikins (AdSAM(R)) for PAD and with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify corresponding patterns of brain activation. We found significant differences in the AdSAM scores on the pleasure and arousal rating scales among the stimuli. Using the AdSAM response as a model for the fMRI image analysis, we showed bilateral activations in the inferior frontal gyri and middle temporal gyri associated with the difference on the pleasure dimension, and activations in the right superior temporal gyrus and right middle frontal gyrus associated with the difference on the arousal dimension. These findings suggest a dimensional approach of constructing emotional changes in the brain and provide a better understanding of human behavior in response to advertising stimuli.
Morris JD, Woo C, Singh AJ (2005): Elaboration likelihood model: A missing intrinsic emotional implication. J Target Meas Anal Market 14: 79-98.
Shinkareva SV, Mason RA, Malave VL, Wang W, Mitchell TM, Just MA. (2008). Using fMRI Brain Activation to Identify Cognitive States Associated with Perception of Tools and Dwellings. PLoS ONE. Jan 2;3(1):e1394.