A Satisfied Mind

The use of focus groups is widely used by commercial and governmental organizations to decide if we will welcome the latest new thing with open arms and, more importantly, with open wallets. The wisdom of the crowd of choice should give the choice of the crowd as the correct answer. That is the received wisdom at the moment.

The problem is that the focus groups aren’t genuine crowds. They are interactive groups. With interactive groups, wiser heads can prevail. Even crowds can be swayed if the rhetoric is strong enough. Where should we go from here if we really want to know what people really, really want? Heavy duty technology has the answer. It can winkle it out of our little grey cells, whether we want it to or not.

Berns and Moore from Emory U have clearly cracked it. A quick glance at their paper in J Consumer Psych. (1,2) will knock your socks off with one of those “Ah-Ha” moments. Remember the big magnet can see all! They used Functional MRI (fMRI) to tease out of the brains of adolescents which pop music they truly preferred and showed that this correlated with the numbers of units sold over the preceding three year period. Good correlations were obtained and they predicted a third of the big sellers. Pretty good for kids who don’t usually know their own minds!

The part of the brain yielding up the information to the big magnet was the ventral striatum in this pop music experiment. This is where aspects of your emotional and motivational behavior lurk. For example, your addictive behavior has excited signals playing around here, even if the addiction is only to tea.

Clearly, fMRI scans should more successful in predictions than the responses that someone of indeterminate age with a clipboard would get on approaching a group of adolescents on a street corner. But the idea is much more powerful than that. If it’s diddling with your addictive center, the marketing/product idea could be progressively optimized so the alternatives wouldn’t get a look in.

Can you visualize the new world order where we have all got our hearts desire and won’t regret our choices of goodies or governments? Neuroeconomics is clearly the next big thing.

  1. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2011.05.001
  2. http://improbable.com/ 

Leave a Reply