Showing posts with label Neuroscience. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Neuroscience. Show all posts

Friday, August 28

Inventing History: Malleable Memories

David DiSalvo, freelance writer and self-described research wonk, nicely summed two studies from the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology that suggest what we remember may not be reality, especially when presented with evidence that seems to support what did not happen.

Can false memories be adopted?

After participants were asked to perform a computerized multiple choice gambling task, they were prompted to withdraw money from a bank when they answered correctly and deposit money when they answered incorrectly. At the end of the task, researchers told participants that they were caught cheating. Some participants were told that there was video evidence showing that they took money (but were not shown the video) after answering incorrectly while others were shown false video “proving” that they cheated. In a second study, participants were accused of cheating more than one time.

The results of both experiments were surprising. When shown fake evidence, nearly 100 percent falsely confessed, and 67 percent (Experiment 1) and 73 percent (Experiment 2) believed they committed a false act. But even when subjects were told that video evidence existed, nearly 100 percent falsely confessed, and 60 percent (Experiment 1) and 13 percent (Experiment 2) developed false beliefs.

In a similar study, participants conducted the task with a second person and were then told the other person had cheated and asked to sign a witness statement. In the second study, nearly 40 percent of the participants who watched the video complied. Another 10 percent signed when asked a second time. Only 10 percent of those who were only told about the video agreed to sign, and about 5 percent of the control group signed the statement.

How does this apply to communication?

A significant amount of communication happens in real time or near real time. In some instances, participants may debate or disagree about any number of issues and topics that sometimes evolve into a drama. However, not all dramas may be legitimate, even when evidence seems to support them as such.

John Mackey's Aug. 11 opinion in the The Wall Street Journal may qualify as a fitting example. While there was no outrage in his opinion piece that offered alternative ideas to health care reform, the retelling of false inferences combined with content taken out of context as evidence has fueled some odd and fabricated outrage.

Today, there were about 100 stories with continuing coverage about the boycott, with an emphasis on a Facebook group dedicated to boycotting Whole Foods. There are about 30,000 members. (There is also an anti-boycott group growing at a faster pace, if you can believe it.)

By comparisons to other cause-driven efforts I've covered — ranging from the cancellation of Jericho and Veronica Mars to outrage over Motrin or push back on United Airlines, any fire behind any boycott seems overblown no matter how some agenda-driven proponents attempt to fan it.

Still, both Whole Foods and Mackey have exhibited some regret over the piece, with Whole Foods apologizing while clarifying that Mackey's opinions are not the official stance of the company. In a way, they've accepted an erred definition that providing any opinion was ill-advised.

It really wasn't ill-advised. But with the case being made with the thinnest of evidence, it may be remembered as such. Weird.

Of course, if anyone prefers a simpler example, consider how an old friend might share a memory we don't recollect. We may accept their account, even if they made it up. And, we're even more likely to accept it if they have a photo or video that offers any evidence, even if the evidence is only implied or supportive without a direct correlation to the story. Malleable, indeed.

Friday, August 14

Understanding Emotion: Branding Beats Banners

There are several studies related to neuroscience (not marketing) being conducted that marketing professionals and other communicators might consider following anyway. Both of these studies touch on long-standing advertising rules; Rule 3 and Rule 7, specifically.

Study 1: How Emotions Connect To Memory.

The first study is being conducted by researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The intent is to develop treatments to prevent and treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, but the findings may also be important to understanding communication, emotions, and memories.

Specifically, the study is finding that Protein Kinase C (PKC) is activated through the release of norepinephrine. When norepinephrine and glutamate arrive together, PKC gives them permission to create stronger memories.

As Ashok Hegde, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy and the lead investigator on the study, explains: when memory is stored in the brain, the connections between nerve cells, called synapses, change. Strong memories are formed when synapses become stronger through structural changes that occur at the synapse.

Where this may connect with communication is it helps demonstrate why some messages connect and others do not. A large amount of advertising, especially push marketing, never penetrates our natural filters because those messages never touch our emotional triggers (e.g., well-developed synapses), which represent some of our strongest memories.

Simply put, we tend to react to messages that are capable of piggybacking on established memories that help shape our emotions OR messages from a source (via a brand connection) that we already have an emotional attachment to. The latter exemplifies why social media works because our interaction with select people and companies creates emotional experiences (good, bad, or indifferent) and reinforces these synapses.

In the case of a banner ad, which generally doesn't have any emotional connection, for example, we mostly ignore it unless the person or company already has established a brand connection. Who knows? It might pinpoint why a company like McDonald's has such a powerful brand as it establishes and strengthens synapses throughout childhood.

Study 2: Why Interruption Advertising Is Losing Its Luster.

Meanwhile, neuroscientists at New York University are conducting some interesting studies on a group of monks and secular meditators to understand how our brains work. While the study is being conducted to better understand brain disorders such as stress, depression, Alzheimer’s, and autism, it may also unlock some practical applications for marketers and communicators.

Specifically, they are finding that average people are either conscious of the external world or their personal world (self-awareness), and alternate between the two. Scienceline describes the phenomenon by asking we "Imagine how concentrating on a situation in the present, like listening to a friend’s story or solving a math problem, can make you less self-aware — that is the pull of the external world. But then a lapse of focus creeps in, and you begin to wonder if you missed your doctor’s appointment this morning, or what you want to do on vacation next week — and you have felt the push into your inner world."

For marketers and communicators, the lesson to be learned is that if the goal is to reach the inner world then attempting to compete with an increasingly loud external world is much less effective. Using Scienceline's analogy, imagine several external world experiences competing for your attention. Some advertisers have come to believe that the only means to reach people is to create advertising that demands attention and some public relations professionals think that hyped news releases sell.

However, we know those tactics are not sustainable over the long term and, in general, do not reinforce a brand relationship. They cannot because they generally never reach people on an emotional level or break into the inner world. Specifically, the messages are being pushed at them.

This might also explain why social media tends to work well as a communication tool. People often search and find content because they begin with an inner world problem — they want to learn something, need to know something, etc. When they find the content, it tends to be more reflective and has a greater chance to establish an emotional bond. In a sense, that is the pull.

What do you think? Does communication that connects via the inner world have a much greater chance of creating an emotional experience that, in turn, stays in our memories much longer than interruption that commands our attention for a few moments of time? It seems to be.

Tuesday, March 25

Reading Minds: Neuro Persuasion

At what point does advertising stop being communication? An article in Adweek seems to beg the question as Eleftheria Parpis mentions that more agencies and companies are considering advances in neuroscience to be the final frontier in convincing consumers to buy products and politicians.

Neuroscience is amazing, especially as a tool in post-analysis research. It’s the reason we understand why Coca-Cola is a brand champ or why certain Super Bowl ads, despite what consumers said, outperformed others during the 2006 Super Bowl.

One of the takeaways from the latter study was how the Disney advertisement fired up the brain while a FedEx ad that ended with a funny scene where a caveman is crushed by a dinosaur was perceived as threatening by the brain. Last year, Coke became a client of EmSense to help it decide which two TV ads to place in the Super Bowl. (It was the first time the company used brainwave and biometric data to help select and edit its Super Bowl ads.)

The emphasis on neuroscience is because advertisers and marketers are noticing the steady decline of what was once considered the king of all advertising vehicles — the :30 television spot. As the entertainment industry moves toward on-demand programming with fewer interruptions, the best advertisers already know that gimmicks, tricks, gags, and heavy buys are no longer a formula for success.

Even with a better understanding of consumer engagement on the unseen psychological level, smart advertisers admit: the more they know, the less they know. For example, even a neuroscience-backed advertisement doesn’t stand a chance when it’s fast-forwarded on TiVo. And, the successful Disney advertisement didn’t necessarily sell more vacation packages nor does it consider the decades of branding behind the single tested commercial.

It also doesn’t consider the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Simply put, the concept is that if you watch something, like an atom, it may respond differently because the observation influences behavior.

Add it all up and while the work is important well beyond selling you a soft drink, it all points to one thing. Everybody wants assurances and, frankly, they just don’t exist.

"When economic times get difficult, clients get nervous, and when they get nervous, they want guarantees," Jeffrey Blish, partner and chief strategic officer at Deutsch/LA, Marina del Rey, Calif, told Adweek. "There has always been an interest in trying to make your marketing efforts more bulletproof. It ebbs and flows depending on the business climate."

He’s right, but it goes even deeper. Consumers want guarantees too. Not only do they want better products, but their expectations also change with engagement. It’s something advertisers might consider as they delve deeper into social media.

As consumers strengthen their connection to advertisers, marketers, programs, and companies, the entire paradigm of how they see brands shifts in sometimes unexpected directions. Add in the idea that as consumers understand that they are being observed, they might behave differently. Or, in other words, sometimes what seems to be is not what is or will be. Social media is very much like that.

Most often, people consider social media to be an “advent” or “evolution.” But I am not always so certain. Maybe it’s much simpler than that. We were watching HBO’s John Adams miniseries yesterday. And as a man on horseback rode by the Adams home announcing the attack on Lexington and Concord, my wife noted the obvious. “Huh,” she said. “Social media.”


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