2011 December 01 Thursday
Brand Effects Depend On Partner Or Servant Relationship

We grow up exposed to huge doses of advertising and the brands continue to pelt us with images and ideas our entire lives. Good to be aware of how they impact us. Some of the impacts go well beyond how they lure us into buying them. First off, exposure to the Apple brand causes people to behave more creatively while exposure to the Disney brand causes people to behave more honestly. What brands make people work harder or study harder?

Aggarwal, along with Ann L. McGill of the University of Chicago, looked at an effect called behavioral priming. Previous research has shown that you can affect people's behavior by reminding them about a social group. For instance, if you talk to people about the elderly, those who feel positively about the elderly will unconsciously mimic them by walking more slowly; people with negative feelings about the elderly will walk more quickly. Without realizing it people are trying to either show social affinity to the elderly or reject them.

Other research has shown that the same behavior happens with brands, even when they don't have a human-like mascot like the Doughboy. In one previous experiment, participants exposed to the Apple brand behaved more creatively, and those exposed to the Disney brand behaved more honestly than others. The brands were exerting a "quasi-social" influence.

I'm thinking that Disney movies projected up on the screen should be mandatory in the offices of used car dealers and in legislatures among other places.

Whether you think of a brand as a partner or a servant affects how you behave when reminded of that brand. So, for example, having a safe partner makes people more risk averse. But having a safe servant produces the opposite effect. Anyone want to explain that?

But Aggarwal and McGill found that it's not as simple as merely liking or disliking a brand. In a series of experiments they confirmed the social priming effect, but also showed that the social role that the brand represented also had an effect on behavior. Specifically, they looked at the difference between a brand that was perceived as a "partner," and one that was perceived as a "servant."

For instance, in one part of the experiment the researchers used questions about the Volvo automobile, which is perceived as extremely safe. They manipulated whether participants saw the Volvo as a partner ("Volvo. Works With You. Helping You Take Care of What's Important.") or a servant ("Volvo. Works For You Taking Care of What's Important.") Participants were asked to think of the brand as a person, and then were asked questions about what risks they would take in a gambling situation, and finally how likeable they found the Volvo brand.

People who dislike Volvo and people who see Volvo as a servant both become more willing to take risks.

People who saw the brand as a partner and liked it said they would take fewer risks; people who saw it as a partner and disliked it said they would take more risks. The opposite was true when the Volvo was seen as a servant: those who liked it said they would take more risks, and those who disliked it said they would take fewer risks.

Humans aren't anywhere near as rational as they imagine themselves to be.

So what brand changes the way you feel about life? Feel more confident from putting on a brand of watch? Does your iPad make you feel like you are a creative genius at the top of your game? Or does your Toro mower make you feel powerful? How about your brand of scotch or brand of hat?

By Randall Parker    2011 December 01 09:09 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2010 December 09 Thursday
Video Game Make Kids Eat More Vegetables

Today video games to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. But this is just a first step. Why not video games to advance political agendas? When will political factions and financial interests fund video games to promote lifestyles and support for political positions? Why not video games to encourage kids to become investment bankers, hedge fund managers, or special forces soldiers, or believers in a religion?

San Diego, CA, December 7, 2010 – Obesity in youngsters has risen dramatically in recent decades. Fruit and vegetable (FV) consumption and increased water intake can lower the risk of obesity, as can increased physical activity, but it is not always easy to convince children to eat better and exercise more. In a new study published in the January 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that video games designed to encourage these behaviors were effective.

"Escape from Diab" (Diab) and "Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space" (Nanoswarm) are epic video games specifically designed to lower risks of type 2 diabetes and obesity by changing youth diet and physical activity behaviors. Designed by Archimage, Inc., and funded by a Small Business Initiative Research Grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, Diab and Nanoswarm are based on social cognitive, self-determination, and persuasion theories.

Hey, if video games can get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables surely they can convince young, impressionable, gullible, naive kids to support public transit, saving trees, more aircraft carriers, or socialized health care.

Children playing these video games increased FV consumption by about 2/3 serving per day, but did not increase water consumption or moderate to vigorous physical activity, or improve body composition. Despite the increase, FV and water consumption and physical activity remained below the minimum recommendations.

What I wonder: In the longer run will technological advances enhance or degrade the ability of parents to control the environments that children experience growing up? 30 years from now will parents have more or less control over what their kids learn and what cultural influences reach them?

One can imagine a large market of educational games and virtual environments where parents choose what their kids learn and what influences get thru to them. Will 10 year olds have the equivalent of full access to the web 30 years from now? Or will they access heavily controlled and customizable subsets? Will specialized A.I.s filter what reaches each kid?

By Randall Parker    2010 December 09 11:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2010 July 12 Monday
Vary Your Golf Practice To Learn More

Ready for some scientific guidance to your golf game?Avoid repeatedly practicing just one shot. Sounds like good advice for life.

Struggling with your chip shot? Constant drills with your wedge may not help much, but mixing in longer drives will, and a new study shows why.

Previous studies have shown that variable practice improves the brain’s memory of most skills better than practice focused on a single task. Cognitive neuroscientists at USC and UCLA describe the neural basis for this paradox in a new study in Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers split 59 volunteers into six groups: three groups were asked to practice a challenging arm movement, while the other three groups practiced the movement and related tasks in a variable practice structure.

Volunteers in the variable practice group showed better retention of the skill. The process of consolidating memory of the skill engaged a part of the brain - the prefrontal cortex - associated with higher level planning.

Might this result also apply to purely intellectual learning where no physical skill is involved? Seems plausible.

You have to process what you are doing more deeply if you keep switching around between different physical activities.

The group assigned to constant practice of the arm movement retained the skill to a lesser degree through consolidation that engaged a part of the brain - the primary motor cortex - associated with simple motor learning.

“In the variable practice structure condition, you’re basically solving the motor problem anew each time. If I’m just repeating the same thing over and over again as in the constant practice condition, I don’t have to process it very deeply,” said study senior author Carolee Winstein, professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy at USC College.

“We gravitate toward a simple, rote practice structure because we’re basically lazy, and we don’t want to work hard. But it turns out that memory is enhanced when we engage in practice that is more challenging and requires us to reconstruct the activity,” Winstein said.

Don't let yourself get lazy. Mix it up.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 12 09:59 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2010 January 13 Wednesday
Self Control Is Contagious?

Parents who try very hard to buy into school districts that feature better performing and better behaved children probably appreciate a truth about human nature. People are influenced by the extent of self control exercised by others around them.

Athens, Ga. – Before patting yourself on the back for resisting that cookie or kicking yourself for giving in to temptation, look around. A new University of Georgia study has revealed that self-control—or the lack thereof—is contagious.

In a just-published series of studies involving hundreds of volunteers, researchers have found that watching or even thinking about someone with good self-control makes others more likely exert self-control. The researchers found that the opposite holds, too, so that people with bad self-control influence others negatively. The effect is so powerful, in fact, that seeing the name of someone with good or bad self-control flashing on a screen for just 10 milliseconds changed the behavior of volunteers.

“The take home message of this study is that picking social influences that are positive can improve your self-control,” said lead author Michelle vanDellen, a visiting assistant professor in the UGA department of psychology. “And by exhibiting self-control, you’re helping others around you do the same.”

The press release describes 5 experiments the researchers conducted. Here are the first two:

In the first study, the researchers randomly assigned 36 volunteers to think about a friend with either good or bad self-control. Those that thought about a friend with good self-control persisted longer on a handgrip task commonly used to measure self-control, while the opposite held true for those who were asked to think about a friend with bad self-control.

In the second study, 71 volunteers watched others exert self-control by choosing a carrot from a plate in front of them instead of a cookie from a nearby plate, while others watched people eat the cookies instead of the carrots. The volunteers had no interaction with the tasters other than watching them, yet their performance was altered on a later test of self-control depending on who they were randomly assigned to watch.

Maybe people who are on diets need to view a little video on their cell phone several times a day showing someone else bypassing cookies to eat vegetables. Create an environment (which can be at least partially virtual) around yourself showing other people doing what you want yourself to do.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 13 10:57 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 December 22 Wednesday
Train Your Brain By Watching Experts Perform A Task?

Unsurprisingly brains well trained in a skill do different kinds of mental processing when watching images of others performing that skill.

Scientists have discovered that a system in our brain which responds to actions we are watching, such as a dancer's delicate pirouette or a masterful martial arts move, reacts differently if we are also skilled at doing the move. The University College London (UCL) study, published in the latest online edition of Cerebral Cortex, may help in the rehabilitation of people whose motor skills are damaged by stroke, and suggests that athletes and dancers could continue to mentally train while they are physically injured.

In the UCL study, dancers from the Royal Ballet and experts in capoeira - a Brazilian martial arts form - were asked to watch videos of ballet and capoeira movements being performed while their brain activity was measured in a MRI scanner. The same videos were shown to normal volunteers while their brains were scanned.

The UCL team found greater activity in areas of the brain collectively known as the 'mirror system' when the experts viewed movements that they had been trained to perform compared to movements they had not. The same areas in non-expert volunteers brains didn't care what dance style they saw.

While previous studies have found that the system contains mirror neurons or brain cells which fire up both when we perform an action and when we observe it, the new study shows that this system is fine tuned to each person's 'motor repertoire' or range of physical skills. The mirror system was first discovered in animals and has now been identified in humans. It is thought to play a key role in helping us to understand other people's actions, and may also help in learning how to imitate them.

This research may have an incredibly important practical application: lazier ways to learn!

Professor Patrick Haggard of UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience says: "We've shown that the mirror system is finely tuned to an individual's skills. A professional ballet dancer's brain will understand a ballet move in a way that a capoiera expert's brain will not. Our findings suggest that once the brain has learned a skill, it may simulate the skill without even moving, through simple observation. An injured dancer might be able to maintain their skill despite being temporarily unable to move, simply by watching others dance. This concept could be used both during sports training and in maintaining and restoring movement ability in people who are injured."

It is still necessary to develop enough in some skill to that one will have a mind trained to learn from watching experts perform.

Dr Daniel Glaser of UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience says: "Our study is as much a case of 'monkey do, monkey see' as the other way round. People's brains appear to respond differently when they are watching a movement, such as a sport, if they can do the moves themselves.

"When we watch a sport, our brain performs an internal simulation of the actions, as if it were sending the same movement instructions to our own body. But for those sports commentators who are ex-athletes, the mirror system is likely to be even more active because their brains may re-enact the moves they once made. This might explain why they get so excited while watching the game!"

Deborah Bull, Creative Director at Royal Opera House (ROH2), says: "We are delighted to be working with Patrick Haggard, our Associate Scientist, on this fascinating area of research. As a former dancer, I have long been intrigued by the different ways in which people respond to dance. Through this and future research, I hope we'll begin to understand more about the unique ways in which the human body can communicate without words."

Videos are still greatly underutilized as a means of training and education. Videos of college courses on every subject ought to be widely and cheaply available. Surely governments spend enough money funding unversities and schools that some of the teaching that they fund can be recorded and made available for free download. Also, every type of performance training such as ballet and other forms of dance could have training sessions and performances recorded at many angles for use in schools. Then even children in rural areas could pursue types of training that are now accessible only to much more urbanized populations. Such recordings would also be of value to many city dwellers who can not afford expensive lessons. The process of education is still too stuck in old formats of delivery. Education should become as modernized by technology as retail, communications, factories, and transportation devices have bcome.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 22 02:45 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2004 October 22 Friday
Coke And Pepsi Advertising Effects Measurable In Brain Scans

Samuel M. McClure, now at Princeton University, Jian Li at Baylor College of Medicine, and a number of colleagues at Baylor have found that brand preferences are measurable using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans.

The preference for Coke versus Pepsi is not only a matter for the tongue to decide, Samuel McClure and his colleagues have found. Brain scans of people tasting the soft drinks reveal that knowing which drink they're tasting affects their preference and activates memory-related brain regions that recall cultural influences. Thus, say the researchers, they have shown neurologically how a culturally based brand image influences a behavioral choice.

These choices are affected by perception, wrote the researchers, because "there are visual images and marketing messages that have insinuated themselves into the nervous systems of humans that consume the drinks."

Even though scientists have long believed that such cultural messages affect taste perception, there had been no direct neural probes to test the effect, wrote the researchers. Findings about the effects of such cultural information on the brain have important medical implications, they wrote.

Advertising may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.

"There is literally a growing crisis in obesity, type II diabetes, and all their sequelae that result directly from or are exacerbated by overconsumption of calories. It is now strongly suspected that one major culprit is sugared colas," they wrote.

My prediction: Some day people will be able to elect to be put under brain scanners and shown a series of advertising images to discover which advertisers have done the best job of programming them to like their products. Then some drug combination or other therapy will be available to deliver in conjunction with an image of some product to cause the cancellation of the neural pattern that makes one favor that product.

Besides the health implications of studying soft drink preference, the researchers decided to use Coke and Pepsi because-- even though the two drinks are nearly identical chemically and physically--people routinely strongly favor one over the other. Thus, the two soft drinks made excellent subjects for rigorous experimental studies.

In their study, the researchers first determined the Coke versus Pepsi preference of 67 volunteer subjects, both by asking them and by subjecting them to blind taste tests. They then gave the subjects sips of one drink or the other as they scanned the subjects' brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In this widely used imaging technique, harmless magnetic fields and radio signals are used to measure blood flow in regions of the brain, with such flow indicating brain activity levels. In the experiments, the sips were preceded by either "anonymous" cues of flashes of light or pictures of a Coke or Pepsi can.

The experimental design enabled the researchers to discover the specific brain regions activated when the subjects used only taste information versus when they also had brand identification. While the researchers found no influence of brand knowledge for Pepsi, they found a dramatic effect of the Coke label on behavioral preference. The brand knowledge of Coke both influenced their preference and activated brain areas including the "dorsolateral prefrontal cortex" and the hippocampus. Both of these areas are implicated in modifying behavior based on emotion and affect. In particular, wrote the researchers, their findings suggest "that the hippocampus may participate in recalling cultural information that biases preference judgments."

The researchers concluded that their findings indicate that two separate brain systems--one involving taste and one recalling cultural influence--in the prefrontal cortex interact to determine preferences.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex gets programmed by advertising.

We delivered Coke and Pepsi to human subjects in behavioral taste tests and also in passive experiments carried out during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Two conditions were examined: (1) anonymous delivery of Coke and Pepsi and (2) brand-cued delivery of Coke and Pepsi. For the anonymous task, we report a consistent neural response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that correlated with subjects' behavioral preferences for these beverages. In the brand-cued experiment, brand knowledge for one of the drinks had a dramatic influence on expressed behavioral preferences and on the measured brain responses.

They found that the knowledge of the Coke brand exerted a more powerful effect upon the brain than knowledge of the Pepsi brand. Given that Coke is the bigger seller what is to be expected. Dr. Read Montague, director of the Brown Human Neuroimaging Lab at Baylor, said the brain scans allowed him to predict preference before a sip was taken.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging allowed Montague to predict fairly accurately which people preferred Coke or Pepsi before they even took a sip.

“We were stunned by how easy this was,” Montague said. “I could tell what they were going to do by looking at their brain scans.”

A large portion of the market value of Coca Cola is the result of patterns of neural network connections which Coke advertising has created in hundreds of millions of people.

Surely there are similar neural phenomena causing national loyalties, religious loyalties, and other preferences.

By Randall Parker    2004 October 22 04:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
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