June 24, 2010
Brain Scans Predict Sunscreen Lotion Use

Picture mom worrying about whether the kids will put on sunscreen at the beach if she's not around. Well, should she go along to make sure they do it? Not if she just happens to have a brain scanner down in the basement. Put the kids into the scanner, show them a public service announcement on the importance of skin protection to avoid skin cancer, and read what the scanner about activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. With a healthy level of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex the odds are high that the oil will get spread all over the skin.

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." John Wanamaker, 19th-century U.S. department store pioneer

In a study with implications for the advertising industry and public health organizations, UCLA neuroscientists have shown they can use brain scanning to predict whether people will use sunscreen during a one-week period even better than the people themselves can.

"There is a very long history within psychology of people not being very good judges of what they will actually do in a future situation," said the study's senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. "Many people 'decide' to do things but then don't do them."

The new study by Lieberman and lead author Emily Falk, who earned her doctorate in psychology from UCLA this month, shows that increased activity in a brain region called the medial prefrontal cortex among individuals viewing and listening to public service announcement slides on the importance of using sunscreen strongly indicated that these people were more likely to increase their use of sunscreen the following week, even beyond the people's own expectations.

People are such liars. Brain scans predict behavior more accurately than what people say.

"From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do," Lieberman said. "If you just go by what people say they will do, you get fewer than half of the people accurately predicted, and using this brain region, we could do significantly better."

No need for expensive functional magnetic resonance imaging equipment to check out the kids in the basement. Cheaper scanners will do the job in the future.

"Given that there are emerging technologies that are relatively portable and approximate some of what fMRI can do at a fraction of the cost, looking to the brain to shape persuasive messages could become a reality," Lieberman said. "But we're just at the beginning. This is one of the first papers on anything like this. There will be a series of papers over the next 10 years or more that will tell us what factors are driving neural responses."

This opens up all sorts of possibilities. Show the kids videos on the dangers of illicit drug use and watch their brains. Are they going to go off sneaking around to take hallucinogens? The brain scan will tell you. Show pubescent adolescents a video on the dangers of teen sex. Are they going to sneak off and do the wild thing? You'll know. Break out the chastity belt of the scans do not look promising.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 June 24 12:02 AM  Brain Surveillance


Comments
PacRim Jim said at June 24, 2010 10:07 AM:

Could it be that a brain scan determines a person's sunscreen preference?
After my weekly brain scan I tend to prefer the outside of the doctor's office to the inside.

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