Archive for the ‘neuromarketing’ Category

money-in-the-brain.jpgThe burgeoning field of neuroeconomics is on the rise, now with a few journal updates. First, let me introduce two new journals:

Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics

This journal “publishes original research dealing with the application of psychological theories and/or neuroscientific methods to business and economics. As an interdisciplinary journal, JNPE serves academicians in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, business, and economics and is an appropriate outlet for articles designed to be of interest, concern, and value to its audience of scholars and professionals.” The journal is published by the Association for NeuroPsychoEconomics

The journal has a number of high-profile academics, such as Tim Ambler, Antoine Bechara, and Baba Shiv. The first issue (now fresh in my hands) include four articles, of which the abstracts can be found here.

Journal of Neuroeconomics

Although this journal, which is to be published by the Society for NeuroEconomics, is not out yet, it holds the promise to become a second major player in the increased flow of articles on neuroeconomics. The journal will be published quarterly, starting in 2009.

Finally, as though separate journals were not enough, Nature Neuroscience — probably the most highly rated neuroscience journal these days — hosts a special section on decision making, aka neuroeconomics.

On the rise indeed.


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A unique opportunity to learn about contemporary neuroeconomics

We are writing to you in connection with the Conference on Neuroeconomics (ConNEcs 2008), which is going to take place at the Copenhagen Business School May 14-16, 2008. The conference is arranged by Center for Marketing Communication in cooperation with Hilke Plassmann (CalTech, US) and Peter Kenning (Zeppelin University, Germany).


The primary goal of the conference is to establish an international discussion forum for research on Neuroeconomics. Also the conference aims to look into how decision neuroscience can inform consumer and business research, and to illuminate how consumer behaviour is represented in the brain. We expect 150 participants comprising international researchers as well as various organisations and industries.

This unique conference gives you the opportunity to meet members of the most advanced, international research community working with neuromarketing, neuroeconomics and decision neuroscience research.

At CBS we are developing a Decision neuroscience project in corporation with Hvidovre Hospital. At the conference you will also learn about this research.

We recommend you to sign up for the conference.

Attached you will find a more detailed description of the conference including the conference program and registration form. You are also more than welcome to contact us for further information.

We look forward to hearing from you and please feel free to distribute the programme to interested parties.

Kind regards,

ConNEcs 2008 Organizing Committee:

  • Flemming Hansen,
  • Peter Kenning,
  • Hilke Plassmann and
  • Majken L. Møller


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neuro.gifIn May 15-16 this year, the Copenhagen Business School arranges a conference on neuroeconomics. According to the mission statement, the idea is to “provide an international discussion forum for research in the intersection of the psychology and neuroscience of decision-making and to set a stage for the presentation of recent contributions.”

I will give a talk entitled “Three new directions for neuroeconomic research”. The abstract is below. I can see form the other abstracts and talks that the contributions are most interesting, and there are many results that I expect will make it to the neuroscience journals in the foreseeable future.

So if you are interested in neuroeconomics, the neuroscience of decision making, and the relationship between brands, emotions and consumer behaviour, this is definitely the place to go this year.


Three new directions for neuroeconomic research


Cognitive neuroscience has recently contributed significantly to the improvement of models in microeconomy and consumer behaviour research. We here suggest that three recent development in cognitive neuroscience may lead to new and exciting fields of enquiry in neuroeconomic research. First, imaging genetics has provided detailed insight into how genes influence emotional responses and decision making in the brain. Second, studies of healthy ageing suggest that emotions and cognitive processes change with age. Finally, single-subject neuroimaging studies may provide new tools for finding neuronal markers for parameters relevant to consumer behaviour research, including emotional responses, preference formation and decision making.

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sciencefraud.jpgMartha Farah just alerted me about her recent comment in the Neuroethics & Law blog. Yesterday, NY Times ran a story about neuro-politics. More precisely, they presented a study of how subjects’ brains responded to, e.g., different political words and pictures of US politicians involved in the 2008 presidental election. The article’s first author is Marco Iacoboni from UCLA. Basically, the researchers give subjects different kinds of tasks, report activations in different regions of the brain (that themselves are likely enough to be involved during the tasks). Then, the authors set out to interpret this activity, such as:

When we showed subjects the words “Democrat,” “Republican” and “independent,” they exhibited high levels of activity in the part of the brain called the amygdala, indicating anxiety

Didn’t I just say that the amygdala is involved in positive emotions, too? So what does amygdala activation mean, then? Studies have also shown that mere emotional uncertainty (e.g., a neutral face) may activate the amygdala. So maybe the political words are just more emotionally ambiguous? Let’s take another one from a different part of the article:

With Mr. Giuliani, the reactions are reversed. Men respond strongly to his initial still photos, but this fades after they see his video. Women grow more engaged after watching his video.

OK, where did men respond more strongly? The whole brain? WOW! Let’s continue to a third place in the article:

Our subjects also exhibited a much stronger empathetic response to a minute-long excerpt from a stump speech by Mr. Thompson than they did to an excerpt of a Giuliani speech.

So what was compared? Two speakers, two political opponents, two speeches, or ___ (add your favourite). OK that’s just three examples, but the article is full of such tea-leaf reading. It’s nothing short of magical thinking, astrology or healing. Put differently, the authors look at brain blobs and try to interpret their meanings in terms of previous knowledge. Is that bad? Yes it is, because it does not even attempt toput up testable hypotheses. And why don’t we get to know what is meant by “more active” or “respond more strongly”? What is this activation compared to? What is the contrast, the baseline? Even further, what is the statistical cutoff and how many other regions light up during conditions X, Y or Z? Where are all the tech specs that validate this study?

So is this really our brain on politics? Or is it the Iacobini team’s own ambition to get publicity (and maybe earn some money along the way)? I’d say the latter is the case here. The basic problem is that we don’t have a scientific reference, and only have to take the authors’ word for it. It’s a violation of every sensible way to report findings from a scientific method in the press. IMO, before you can do such a thing, you should at least (!) have a manuscript that is accepted, let alone published. And if you choose to do a test for the media, just “for fun”, then say so! This article pretends to be scientifically correct. It is not.

How this has come through the press is probably the most interesting story. And how it got through the science editors at NY Times is a mystery. Indeed, I hope that more criticism will force NY Times to send out a corrigendum.


NOTE: As I hoped for, this story has spurred a lot of discussion, e.g., here.

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ubuntu-logo.pngSuffering from a full computer breakdown, my IBM Thinkpad has become sucpiciously reluctant to re-install Windows. Instead, I’m now running Ubuntu linux. For the most part it is not just comparable to Windows, in many respects it’s even better.

So what does this computer havoc have to do with the brain, or ethics at all?

Ubuntu is a totally free computer software, a fully operational operative system that replaces Windows fully. As in the core spirit of the linux movement, everything is free. So who benefits — besides myself — from this genuine altruism? I’m actually quite puzzled as to how I could explain that someone would spend a lot of their time making software without charging me anything for it. (more…)

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Today’s Science carries a review of what appears to be an interesting book. (I haven’t read it myself, so I am relying on the reviewer here.) The book is Campaigning for Hearts and Minds by Ted Brader, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. It deals with political advertisements, and how they work to target voters’ emotions. Brader analyses how subtle cues, such as music or brightly coloured images of children, can frame the ads’ contents in specific ways. And, following this analysis, he argues that “enthusiastic” and “fear inducing” ads elicit different mental reactions in whose who watch them. In the words of James Druckman, the reviewer:

Enthusiastic ads motivate individuals to participate (e.g., willingness to volunteer, intention to vote), and once participating, these individuals are likely to become even more committed to their prior preferences. The implication is that enthusiasm leads to political polarization by pushing voters to take action on behalf of their prior convictions. Fear ads have less particiatory power – although to some extent they motivate sophisticated individuals. But, fear can open the gates of persuation, and these ads tend to cause individuals to consider new information and possibly change their political preferences.

I cannot see from the review whether or not Brader considers the now vast neurobiological literature on preference formation and decision-making. But it would be an obvious thing for political scientists to do so. In 2003 the journal Political Psychology (Vol 24, Issue 4) attempted such an integration but I am not sure it has had a lot of impact on political science yet. For the rest of us, the main lesson is to turn off the tube when those attack ads come on!



Brader, T. (2006): Campaigning for hearts and minds. University of Chicago Press.

Druckman, J. (2006): Stroking the voters’ passions. Science 312: 1878-1879.

Winkielman, P. & Berridge, K. (2003): Irrational wanting and subrational liking: How rudimentary motivational and affective processes shape preferences and choices. Political Psychology 24: 657-680.

Lieberman, M.D., Schreiber, D. & Ochsner, K.N. (2003): Is political cognition like riding a bicycle? How cognitive neuroscience can inform research on political thinking. Political Psychology 24: 681-704.



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After being long underway, the study by Schaefer et al on how we perceive familiar car brands is finally out, in NeuroImage. Basically, they showed different car brands to subjects; some brands were culturally well-known to the (European) subjects, while other brands were less/not known. Known brands included BMW and Mercedes-Benz, unknown brands included Buick and Acura.

The main study was comparing the activity when looking at known brands from unknown brands. This gave a significant activity in the medial prefrontal cortex.

The strange thing about this study – and IMO something that confuses the interpretation – is the task that the subjects were to perform:

(…) subjects were instructed that they will see logos of familiar and unfamiliar car manufacturers and that they should imagine using and driving a product of the brand they see. If they would see a logo of a car manufacturer they did not know, they should imagine driving and using a generic car.

So here I lie looking at a brand of Acura, knowing that it's a car, and then trying to imagine how it is to drive this car. I have no idea how it looks, and I might even let myself imagine quite a bit how it looks. My first impression about Acura is a "made in Taiwan" fringy feeling. Not a good car. So I imagine driving some kind of uncomfortable car that can barely take my 193 cm and 100 kilos, tilting ot one side … and so on. Then I get the Porche logo and think straight away about that particular Porche my neighbour has. Now I'm driving it, with all it's neat features and noisless interior.



My point is here: known brands don't require deliberation per se. You automatically think about one particular car type, it's visualized immediately. The unknown car brand at most produces some kind of general car-ish automobile, and you have to deliberate more on how you're driving it. So there is a definite visual imagery difference between the two conditions.

In order to circumvent this problem one should rather use all kinds of known product brands that are known, e.g. including Fiat, Opel and Renault. This would make it possible to compare the effect of known vs. unknown brands, and avoid the muddled brand by socioeconomic status confusion.

The researchers furthermore argue that "it seems that the imagination of driving a familiar car had led the subjects to develop self-relevant thoughts". Sorry, what does that mean? Self-relevant thoughts? So my imagination about driving an uncomfortable car was not a self-relevant stream of thoughts? I strongly oppose such a speculation. What is even more problematic with such a claim is that there are no reports about what the subjects actually thought during the study. So even speculating is very problematic. Which leads me to think about a recent article by Friston and colleagues (PDF) that criticizes this very tenet in neuroimaging studies.

The authors speculate that "the way how brands affect our behavior can be described with the idea of somatic markers based on the theory of Damasio". Following the connectivity between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, this is a likely suggestion. However, bear in mind that the somatic marker hypothesis is very problematic, and researchers such as Edmund Rolls is fighing against it with very good evidence.

Here is the abstract:

Brands have a high impact on people's economic decisions. People may prefer products of brands even among almost identical products. Brands can be defined as cultural-based symbols, which promise certain advantages of a product. Recent studies suggest that the prefrontal cortex may be crucial for the processing of brand knowledge. The aim of this study was to examine the neural correlates of culturally based brands. We confronted subjects with logos of car manufactures during an fMRI session and instructed them to imagine and use a car of these companies. As a control condition, we used graphically comparable logos of car manufacturers that were unfamiliar to the culture of the subjects participating in this study. If they did not know the logo of the brand, they were told to imagine and use a generic car. Results showed activation of a single region in the medial prefrontal cortex related to the logos of the culturally familiar brands. We discuss the results as self-relevant processing induced by the imagined use of cars of familiar brands and suggest that the prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role for processing culturally based brands.


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