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Synthetic Fear: How to Make a Scary Movie

Over the years, movie-makers have tried to go beyond what’s on the screen to scare theatergoers. In the 1950s, director William Castle startled those viewing his horror films, notably The Tingler, with gimmicks like vibrators installed under some theater seats. When the creature escapes into a theater in the movie, Vincent Price’s voice warns the viewers that the Tingler is loose and tells them to scream. At this moment, the theater projectionist would activate buzzers under the seats of a few people in the audience, often eliciting the desired screams.

Smell-O-Vision was another attempt to go beyond the screen by inducing odors at appropriate points, but technical flaws ruined its 1960 debut and it was abandoned. Infrasound, very low frequency audio which humans don’t consciously perceive, has been used in movies to amplify audience fear.

While we haven’t seen 1950s-style panic-inducing creativity lately, neuroscience may be close to giving today’s directors an even more powerful tool: […]

By |August 3rd, 2009|

Medical Marketing: Is That REAL Pain?

Robert Burton of Salon wrote an interesting piece that discusses both the field of prescription drug marketing and how fMRI brain scans have been used to show that pain is “real.”

Fibromyalgia is a condition in which patients seem to experience more pain than non-sufferers. Fibromylgia is thought to be stimulated by mental states like anxiety and depression, but no specific measures like blood tests, X-rays, autopsies, etc., demonstrate any evidence of the condition. The only thing that physicians have to work with is the subjective descriptions of the patients as to their pain level. Now, fMRI brain scans which show more pain-related brain activation in fibromyalgia sufferers may open the floodgates for pharmaceutical companies to offer products like Lyrica to treat the condition. Of course, what the fMRI is showing is that the patient is experiencing a higher level of pain than normal, not that there is a specific organic reason for the pain.

This whole discussion gets into the fascinating area of expectations and individual experience: […]

By |June 15th, 2009|

Mind Reading and Neuromarketing on 60 Minutes

CBS aired a lengthy segment on “mind reading” that offered quite a bit of good information on how various labs are using fMRI to determine what people are thinking. Reporter Lesley Stahl began the piece at Carnegie Mellon University, where profs Marcel Just and Tom Mitchell are doing amazing work in which they use a computer to predict what object someone is thinking about (See CMU Computers Read Thoughts.) The incredible aspect of the CMU research is that the computer predictions are based not on previous brain scans from that subject, but from scans of other subjects. As part of the segment, 60 Minutes had an associate producer (= someone expendable in case things went horribly wrong!) slide into CMU’s fMRI machine and tested the ability of the CMU technique to identify ten objects purely from scanning her brain. Spoiler alert: in the first “real time” demonstration of the technique, the CMU computer scored a perfect 10 correct guesses.

60 Minutes didn’t stop there – after discussing other work in “mind reading” they moved on to the controversial use of fMRI in lie detection. The piece closed with a brief and slightly skeptical discussion of neuromarketing. Watch the whole thing: […]

By |January 5th, 2009|

Offer a Third Choice, Boost Sales

In both Decoy Marketing and More Decoys: Compromise Marketing, I wrote about how adding an item to a lineup of products could increase sales. In the former, the “decoy” was a product that was less attractive than another product but priced the same, or almost the same. This caused sales of the more attractive product to jump, perhaps because it looked all that much better by comparison to the similarly priced but less attractive product.

Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have used brain scans to show that it’s easier for people to make a decision when a third product option is present vs. choosing between just two possibilities. […]

By |December 15th, 2008|

Are Tobacco Warnings Really Ads?

One of the startling conclusions from the neuromarketing study described by Martin Lindstrom in Buyology is that not only are the government-mandated warnings on tobacco packages ineffective, but they actually promote smoking behavior by activating the brain’s nucleus accumbens, an area associated with cravings. This counterintuitive finding was a highlight of Lindstrom’s Today Show interview. In Lindstrom’s words,
We couldn’t help but conclude that those same cigarette warning labels intended to reduce smoking, curb cancer, and save lives had instead become a killer marketing tool for the tobacco industry.
While I have no doubt that the brain studies are accurate, I think the interpretation needs to be studied carefully. Before the mainstream media starts calling for a removal of these insidious warning labels, let’s look at what’s really going on… […]

By |October 23rd, 2008|

Caffeinated Branding: Think Inside the Cup

Way back in 2005, in Can Caffeine Brain Boost Help Ad Recall?, I suggested that Starbucks could sell potent ads on their cups. This idea, though tongue-in-cheek in nature, was based on fMRI research that showed caffeine stimulated areas of the brain associated with memory:

Dr Florian Koppelstatter of the Medical University Innsbruck, Austria, found that caffeine affects distinct areas of the brain. This study is beleived to be the first to demonstrate a visible impact on the brain from caffeine. Subjects who had been given caffeine showed significantly more activity in the frontal lobe and the anterior cingulum – areas of the brain associated with memory and attention. Subjects who received a placebo showed no such impact.
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By |September 25th, 2008|

Focus on NeuroFocus: Interview with A. K. Pradeep

Last week, I carried the story on Neurofocus’s acquisition of what the firm calls the “core patent” for neuromarketing. Subsequent to that announcement, I spoke by phone with Dr. A.K. Pradeep, President and Chief Executive Officer of Neurofocus. Here are some highlights of our conversation: […]

By |September 8th, 2008|

Brain Image Bias

The use of brain imaging in evaluating advertising and products is increasing, and one wonders if the judgment of marketing execs could be clouded by the presence of colorful scan images when used to back up humdrum conclusions in the text. The answer is almost certainly, “Yes.” A recent study showed that students found studies more believable when accompanied by brain images – even when those images added no information to the text content. Cognitive Daily reports on several studies which used both invented and real studies to test the effect of brain images on credibility: […]

By |June 9th, 2008|

Mind Reading Progress

Reading a person’s thoughts may still be science fiction, but researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University are making surprising progress in specific types of “mind reading.” The team, led by computer scientist Tom Mitchell and cognitive neuroscientist Marcel Just, has demonstrated that they can correctly determine the concrete noun subjects are thinking three out of four times: […]

By |June 2nd, 2008|

Sexy Pics Beat Ugly Spiders

 
Erotic images sell better than pictures of office supplies, and a lot better than photos of hairy spiders. Who knew? Actually, that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Stanford researchers led by neuroeconomics prof Brian Knutson have found that positive images, in this case mildly erotic photos of men and women shown to heterosexual men, stimulate the reward center in the brain and induce the viewers to take greater financial risks than subjects who saw neutral (office supplies) or negative (big spider) images. This effect was purely a priming effect, as all of the images were irrelevant to the subsequent decision. The implications of this work could be broad, impacting such diverse areas as gaming and auto sales. […]

By |April 3rd, 2008|