Examining advertising: Free-range functional MRI clues

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  • Published: Jun 1, 2015
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: MRI Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Examining advertising: Free-range functional MRI clues

Un oeuf is un ouef

Functional MRI reveals the pattern of brain activation in consumers who are less certain about buying a particular product and hints at who might be more easily swayed by an advertisement. (Photo by David Bradley)

Functional MRI reveals the pattern of brain activation in consumers who are less certain about buying a particular product and hints at who might be more easily swayed by an advertisement.

Brandon McFadden of the University of Florida and colleagues, writing in the journal PLOS ONE, has found that activation of the prefrontal cortex of the brain can identify which of us will be more responsive to an advertising campaign. The research offers an alternative approach to social science studies that traditionally involve interviewing or surveying people to reveal behavioural trends and as such rely on the participants being honest and having a good memory about past choices.

Prefontal decision

It is known that the brain's prefrontal cortex is involved in decision making. McFadden wanted to find out whether activation of that brain region would reveal people who are more responsive to campaign advertisements prior to viewing the advertisement? The short answer was, yes. The researchers observed higher variations in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex using fMRI. The current papers is based on an experiment conducted by McFadden while at Oklahoma State University along with colleagues from the University of Kansas Medical Center, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas State University.

That study was established in the wake of the 2008 campaign for Proposition 2 in California, which was aimed at production standards in the egg industry, where hen caging practices were considered inhumane. California voters passed the initiative, and the key portion of it took effect at the beginning of 2015, when chicken farmers basically had to give their hens more.

Egg trade-off

McFadden and colleagues wanted to investigate the trade-off between animal welfare and price and how people will behave when choosing cage-free (free-range) eggs at a higher price or cheaper price for eggs from tightly caged birds. 44 participants were recruited for the fMRI study and after making purchasing decisions about eggs in the MRI machine, were divided into three groups each of which viewed one of three videos. One video supported Proposition 2, the second opposed it and the third "control" video simply showed a flowing stream. The recorded prefrontal cortex brain activity before viewing a video indicated which of the participants were more likely to change their purchasing decision after watching the videos.

"This study was, to a degree, limited by sample size, notably when estimating correlation coefficients, as the sample was split into three video treatments to include a control group," McFadden adds. "Future research could supplement the current study by examining the effects of different information and determining if other neural areas indicate responsiveness to information."

Related Links

Plos One 2015, online: "Can Neural Activation in Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex Predict Responsiveness to Information? An Application to Egg Production Systems and Campaign Advertising"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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