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Advertising on the Brain

2009 October 4

The concept that advertising affects the brain is almost tautological.  Its very purpose is to influence how we think and feel.  However, in the past the issue has been addressed mostly by way of folk wisdom with very little evidence or real understanding.  Fairly recent developments in neurology are beginning to change that.

The story has a rich history, dating back to the late Renaissance, when Europe was just beginning to think again.  It starts in the mid 17th Century, Rene Descartes when was pondering thought itself.

Descartes Error

In 1641 Descartes published Meditations on First Philosophy and famously declared, “I think, therefore I am.” (Cogito Ergo Sum)  He was attempting to build a foundation for knowledge that was firm and beyond doubt, of which he could not be deceived (as we also attempt to do in some way when we say that advertising affects other people, but not us).

Descartes made the point that he undoubtedly existed because he was thinking. Even if he was deceived he had to exist for that deception to take place. Yet, he also had a bigger point.  If he could be sure of his mind, but not his body or his senses, it followed that the two were separate. Furthermore, Descartes suggested that the rational superseded the emotional.

Descartes school of Rationalism became dominant and a century or so was wasted pursuing other truths that could be gleaned without experience. (David Hume came around about the time of the American Revolution.  He said that sensory experience was primary and that we were basically stuck with it, warts and all).

However, the rationalist idea remained and continues to this day.  Conventional wisdom tells us that we should not let our emotions affect our decisions.  Religious doctrine holds that our mind and body are separate.  Generally speaking, our society frowns on our “animal instincts” and self improvement gurus preach that we should develop our higher faculty.

Many modern economists and advertisers reflect this same view in models of “rational choice,” a concept that is coming under fire as more evidence comes in.

The Emotional Brain

Evidence for a different view came in the unlikely form of an industrial accident in Vermont in 1848.  Phineas Gage, a railroad foreman, was injured when an explosion sent an iron rod through his head.  Amazingly he lived and could carry out all of his normal functions, except one.  He could no longer experience emotions and consequently lost his ability to make decisions.  He could define the alternatives, but couldn’t weight them

Neurologist Antonio Damasio has studied the Gage case and has made a career out of researching emotions and decision making.  It turns out that people who have their emotions impaired also have trouble making decisions.  The result of his research is the Somatic Marker Hypothesis, which holds that effective decision making is actually inextricably tied to our emotions.

In effect, rather than two different functions, the emotional and rational are inextricably linked.  Further research has shown that our feelings affect learning as well.

How We Learn

Our brain is made up of neurons, which are separated by gaps called synapses.  It is through the ability to transmit information between these synapses that thinking and other brain functions possible.  Yet, not all neurons can communicate with each other.  The process of our neurons getting to know each other better is how we learn.

We learn through experience and we train ourselves through repetitive experience.  What is happening inside our brain is that our synapses are getting built up.  The more often we repeat an event (either actually or cognitively), the stronger those synapses become.

Moreover, when a new event is paired with something more familiar, synapses are built up faster and more easily.  Chemically speaking, the new memory just hitches a ride on the old one, which makes learning by association effective.

Emotions Promote Memories

Joseph LeDoux at NYU has done extensive research into how emotions affect our brain, memory and decision making.  He made the astute observation that we have an emotional and a physical reaction, before we engage in rational thought (as when we jump back to avoid a bus hitting us and only a few seconds later realize what had happened).

Furthermore, LeDoux found that emotions (specifically he studies fear) release chemicals that help induce synapse building (so our survival instinct improves over time).  His research suggests that rather than being separate from our rationality, emotions are inextricably linked to our major cognitive actions: learning, memory and decision making.

The concept makes evolutionary sense.  Imagine you are in the jungle.  You need food and water to merely subsist.  There are dangers all around: Snakes, predators, treacherous terrain, etc.  In order to survive, you need to remember what can help you and what can hurt you.  Moreover, when you encounter danger, you won’t have time to research or weigh alternatives before you act.  Your life is at stake.

It would really come in handy to have a yellow highlighter pen in your brain that says “This is important, remember it.”  That’s what emotions are; a yellow highlighter pen in your brain. We can’t make decisions without them because emotions are our brain’s way of signaling importance biochemically.

Interestingly, LeDoux, now one of the world’s top neuroscientists, started out as a marketer.  He got his PhD because he was interested in how consumers are motivated.

The Advertised Mind

With Damasio, Ledoux and others in mind, Erik du Plessis of Milward Brown has done extensive research into what makes advertising effective.  The database for his study has over 30,000 TV commercials which he accumulated over 20 years.  His conclusions are simple, practical and well documented.

Effective Advertising is Emotional: Aside from neurological evidence, this makes intuitive sense.  Try to remember a non-emotional event.  Even if you can, it’s difficult, but think of an emotion such as anger, sorrow, pride or joy, and a flood of images come at you almost involuntarily.

In du Plessis’ studies, one of the best supported findings is that emotive advertisements were much more successful in promoting recall and producing a sales effect.  That advertising works best when it is emotional is probably the point that he emphasizes most.

Clarity before Creativity: One of the worst things an ad can do is confuse the consumer.  One common mistake is to have too many scenes in an ad, or just too much going on in general.  The association with the brand needs to be strong and familiar to be effective.

Another point is to show the brand (product or logo) as early in the ad as possible so that the association starts as early as possible.  This isn’t all that hard to do because we notice more than we are consciously aware of.  The brand doesn’t have to be large or dominant, just enough to cue the viewer.

This seems like common sense, but one has to always be on guard.  Du Plessis gives one example an ad showed a Ford truck bringing Kelvinator appliances to a happy family.  Although the ad was for Kelvinator, people remembered the Ford logo that appeared first.

The first brand impression can be very powerful.  Consumers know that a commercial is associated with a brand and will naturally cue on the first one they notice, even if it is in the background.

Brands can become more complex as they age: As mentioned above, strong associations can aid the building of weak ones (which is why celebrity endorsers can be very effective).

Like a young boy tagging along with an older brother, these weaker pathways become more robust with a stronger companion to lead the way.  The more they are used, the more they become true synaptic pathways in their own right.

New brands with few associations built up in consumers minds need to pair themselves with strong associations.  However, a well established brand has synapses devoted to it.  It already occupies a place in the consumers mind.  Therefore a popular brand can become more complex over time, using old, built-up associations to help forge new ones.

While this might seem antithetical to the previous point, there is an important distinction to be made: Brand Communication and Brand Identity are not synonymous.  Not every association needs to be present in every message.

In fact, building new brand associations is not only possible, it’s advisable – if done carefully.  As long as there is no conflict with the older, built-in associations, creating new brand attributes creates new synapses and therefore greater “share of mind.”  These new associations can actually strengthen incumbent ones.

How Advertising Works

The concept that advertising, learning and memory are intrinsically related is not new.  However, our understanding of how it all works neurologically is.  Ergo, we can separate myth from meaning and define what makes advertising (or anything else) memorable:

Repetition: The old adage “frequency sells” has a biochemical basis.  Just like trails through a forest, synaptic pathways become deeper with use.

Association: Anthropologists have long known the power of archetypes.  Neurology can now tell us why: A strong synaptic pathway leads the way for a weak one.

Emotion: The emotional center of our brain (Amygdala) releases chemicals that promote the formation of new synaptic pathways.

As advertising researchers Giep Franzen and Margot Bouwman say “The brand exists as a neural network of memories.”  This has undoubtedly always been true. Now, through greater knowledge of how our brains acquire and store information, we can better understand how these neural networks of memories are built and can communicate with consumers more effectively.

– Greg

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Note: I am indebted to James Sinclair for his input on this article.  James is one of the world’s premier advertising creatives, winning an amazing 6 Cannes Lions and induction into the Clio Hall of Fame, among other honors.  Please visit his site: http://web.mac.com/james.sinclair

Further Reading: Anyone who has more than a passing interest in this topic further should read du Plessis’ excellent book, The Advertised Mind. Those who are more adventurous can also read primary sources such as Descartes’ Error by Damasio and Synaptic Self by Ledoux.

John Grant’s Brand Innovation Manifesto is an excellent guide for the point about expanding brand attributes.

35 Responses leave one →
  1. October 5, 2009

    This is all very interesting. It seems that the commentary is a bit more on television advertising side. Just to add some arcana to the conversation, since we seem to be on a somewhat physiological/biochemical jag, years ago there were studies undertaken about print, and to a lesser degree TV advertising, which was called “tachistiscopic research”. This basically was a way of registering where the eyes of a person went when encountering an advertisement. I tested a whole mess of print ads this way and it was fascinating. Print ad design could make eyeballs swirl or it could provide a roadmap so that the ad’s message would register; and of course this all takes place in a split second. Competent and creative designers understand intuitively how to lay out an ad so it delivers the message effectively. Good copywriters provide just the right amount of copy, and sometimes it’s just a few words (apologies to David Ogilvy, who preferred wordy though instructive ads).

    The nuances of advertising are many, and I tend to think that the noise and chaos level in both video and print advertisements is pretty high today and distracts, thus lessening impact. I won’t even go into radio, which is a much misunderstood and not particularly well-managed medium by advertisers. Nor will I venture into the online flash animations that populate the websites I visit.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Michael,

    Thanks for your comment.

    You are right that most of the research is based on TV. It is very difficult to research Print ads because consumption can not be tracked. Most of the research regarding Print is focused on the media multiplier effect, which appears to be substantial. Much like outdoor, it is pretty easy to see that it is effective in tracking studies, but very difficult to judge how, what weights are needed, etc.

    You also make a good point about eye-tracking studies. They have been used for print and outdoor for a long time, and were even the basis for Postar Research in the UK. They are now extensively used in Digital as well. Here’s a very good example from the usability guru Jacob Nielson: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/banner-blindness.html

    Thanks again for coming to Digital Tonto and sharing your insights.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  2. David permalink
    October 6, 2009

    Well, Greg, that’s a nice recollection of various facts & theories of different sources, but your interpretations of these notions are quite arguable. You keep citing scientific studies that try to correlate the emotional aspect in communications with the “learning” process as a cause-to effect demonstration of advertising efficiency, which is certainly a dated notion.

    First, your paragraph entitled “Descartes Error” is very bold – Descartes didn’t make an “error” with his “I think, therefore I am”, as it is an exploration in proof of existence through rational thought rather than the “building of a foundation for knowledge” as you mentioned. Descartes was a mathematician and a Cartesian, and he should be studied in the context of his belonging to a particular school of thought.

    Then, your demonstration of the Phineas Gage case is completely wrong. Phineas Gage could still experience emotions, only they were that of rage, fits, and general manners of miscontempt. His brain had rather lost the ability to balance his emotions, but he still could make use of rational thought. He wasn’t able, however, to make reasonable decisions out of this rational thinking and hence wasn’t allow to regain his place at work. You are right that the emotional and rational abilities and invoked in the process of decision-making, but the brain ‘balances’ these abilities according to context. When solving a mathematical problem the brain is more inclined towards rational thought, while trying to find solutions on how to stop a fight with your loved one is more inclined towards emotional thought. It’s all a question of context.

    Synapses – changes in synaptic structure can occur almost instantly, yet yielding changes to long-term memory. If you burn yourself with fire once, you remember not to touch it all your life. In traditional advertising, agencies indeed used to sollicitate the “learning” process as they believed that memory of a product or brand is what made you want to buy it when confronted to a choice, but that is now obsolete, and even at the time, missed a few key links. Advertising is now trying to generate a strong connection between the brand and the viewer, and so the “learning” process is not quite as important as working an emotional bond by sustained “connection-building” activities.

    Brand faithfulness is not what it was, and “refreshing a consumer’s memory” or recall is not the most effective advertising technique anymore, at any rate — hence you may not define advertising in those means. You’re making abstraction of the fact that consumers, having (to your benefit) been “thaught” advertising in the past, can now easily recognize various communication patterns in advertising, and this has has a desensitizing effect on them – coupled with the over-exposure to messages of all sorts. Traditional advertising, while still a potent source of entertainment when particularly creative, is not the omnipotent source of influence anymore because of that loss of its ability to convince. Consumers have reverted to put their buying trust in peer-to-peer advice and opinions, rather than exclusively relying on what “TV told them”. Their ability to judge and compare products has significantly increased since the 50s, and now marketers must find ways to use this to their advantage – hence the birth of social media in its current online form.

    Dr. Ledoux certainly wasn’t the first scientific to perform the kind of research you mention, and scientific research sometimes spends too long studying a question, while trends evolve. Most of this advertising knowledge you’re proposing in your advertised mind section is no secret to any advertising professional, and has been covered plenty by many a great advertising mind. And mind you, they are schools of thought that once again, should be studied in their own time and context.

    Lastly, your paragraph on “How Advertising Works” is a description of the general cognitive process, not advertising per se. How advertising works depends on context, trends, culture and the state of mind of the individual. If indeed we knew exactly how advertising works, we’d be making millions – but by all means advertising is not an exact science, and unfortunately for all those scientifics you mention, trying to demonstrate relations between the learning process and brand faith is a failed attempt at rationalizing a constantly-evolving and untangible notion which we can only observe and react to.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    David,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You seem to have quite an interest in this topic. You might want to check out some of the “further reading” I’v left at the bottom. I especially think you might enjoy Damasio’s book. It has a very “bold title.”

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  3. Suzan Hopkins permalink
    October 6, 2009

    I am going to go off on a tangent here – The story of Phineas Gage interested me. It made me think about – wait for it – Mr. Spock from Star Trek. The Vulcans – a race of beings of which he was one – spent many years trying to remove emotions from themselves. It makes me wonder if that actually resulted in a race of beings that were incapable of making decisions. I think I can see how this can come about. If you are so logical in your thinking, you see the consequences of all sides of a decision. It is not always just do this or that but a myriad of other things that can be affected by that decision. If there is not an emotion to finally sway you one way or the other, I can see how this can just paralyxze the decision-making process. This is fascinating. Please do not be annoyed by my tangent. And I do not mean to completely remove you from your intellectual discussion.

    Suzan

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Suzan,

    It’s an excellent point! Actually, story is somewhat more involved than I had space to write about. Although the Gaga case is the most dramatic and the most famous, Damasio studied more modern subjects as well, in person. These were people who has lesions on particular parts of the brain.

    His conclusions are exactly as you described. People without emotions don’t have any “skin” in the game. How can you make a decision if the outcome won’t make you happy or sad?

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  4. October 6, 2009

    Thank you Greg for that article.
    The story about Phineas Gage was very interesting to read. I’ve always advocated the idea that people make their decisions on feeling rather than rational. I believe (totally unscientiffic) that the ratio is somewhere around 80% emotionally and 20% rationally.
    My own conviction is that an advertisment needs both emotional and rational arguments. Because when your feeling has made up its mind, you need to confirm the feeling with rational arguments as well.
    Besides the story of Phineas Gage I can imagine an infinite number of situations that prove the fact that we are governed by our emotions. Imagine for instance that you are cooking dinner for your family, when all of a sudden your sixyearold child bumps into you and makes you spill hot sauce all over the stove and on your arm. You’ll have to be a master of self control not to get angry at your child – even though you know he did’nt mean to make you spill. You do not rationally decide to get angry at him, you just react instinctively with anger (which by the way is a feeling). If you were an altogheter rational beeing you would on the other hand wheigh your options and arrive at the insight that your child made a mistake and that you should not be angry at him. But in real life that insight hits you later on, when you have calmed down and tended to your sour arm.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Robert,

    Decision making theory is actually kind of a hot area right now. I think that you make a good point about the great majority of decisions being made emotionally.

    The key issue is “satisfycing” vs. optimizing. For most decisions we only want “good enough.” For very few decisions we want to optimize and that requires a rational approach as well as a lot of time and effort. We simply have to make too many decisions for that level of effort to be efficient.

    The leader in this field is Gary Klein. His Book “Sources of Power” is very readable and informative.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  5. October 19, 2009

    Greg, this is an informative and interesting article. Congratulations. When it comes to human brain, psychology and emotions I would refrain from accepting any theory as final one. People (luckily) are not computers. Still, studies like the ones you quote shed some light on the complex picture.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Stan,

    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it.

    I think you’re right. Although new MRI technology is advancing fast, there is still a lot to be learned.

    – Greg

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  6. October 22, 2009

    Greg,

    Thanks for the article. Very interesting and thought provoking. I just finished reading How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and what you have to say agrees with his much of his research and writing.

    I look forward to more of your articles.

    Ken Gasque

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Ken,

    Thanks. I’ll check out “How we Decide.”

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  7. October 23, 2009

    People have known that dualists (Descates) were wrong for a very long time. And the first principals of Cartesian thought only prove the existence of thought, not dualistic existence this is really really old news.

    Advertising as a study is a side track to psychology or sociology (mass psychology). ‘What motivates people’, and so on. These disciplines were founded on the rejection of dualism well over a hundred years ago. This story should start with Pavlov.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Pavlov
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning

    I have to admit, I really don’t see the use of repudiation of Descartes on this matter as being any more useful than proving his theory of optics had some good stuff but was not fundamentally correct enough to build a modern camera.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Phillip,

    If you looked at the sources, one of the Neurologists leading research in this area titled his book, “Descartes Error.”

    As Descartes was extremely important historically and is still debated in many circles, many people find him worth discussing.

    You obviously don’t.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  8. October 23, 2009

    No, I certainly do feel that Descartes is worth discussing within the context of the history of philosophy. I just sensed you were trying to tell the story of the modern idea of the mind. It’s just that the article implies that recent work of neurologists has recently disproved Descartes idea of dualism.

    Yes I did read the article, and i noticed you started with ‘Descartes Error’. My point was recapitulating his philosophy is redundant in a article about the modern mind. Jumping from Descartes ‘The soul as pilot’ to ‘neuron and pathways’ sounds a little like: “recent work at CERN has finally shown that the elements are in fact not just earth, wind , fire and water…”.

    I for one can think of no ‘modern’ debate about Descartes other than on intention within his text. In other words the kind of debates within historian’s circles. And none of the circles that include modern psychologists or brain surgeons or sociologists.

    It was a good article and I enjoyed it. But your right, I do not think it is worth discussing Descartes dualism in the context of modern science. It is a matter for theologians and historians. I just feel (IMHO) that it would have been better served by starting the narrative background with Pavlov.

    [Reply]

  9. October 24, 2009

    I’ve been fascinated by this whole discussion. I may be a bit of a neophyte in the advertising world, and I may not write with such loft language, but I am a thought leader in the cutting edge integration of neuroscience and formal (scientific) axiology (value science). In our research, we have found that people’s value perceptions and hierachies (the value we place on things and the order in which we put them), which are developed over our lifetimes, are a primary driving force of virtually all choices, actions, and reactions (at least in a “normal” brain) and play a significant role in emotions. I am very curious as to why the word “value” or the concept that people place value on things was found nowhere on this page until this post.

    Thanks Greg, et al. Very stimulating. I wrote several more paragraphs about how powerful neuro-axiology is and commentary about how advertising actually targets and alters people value structures. But, I deleted them. Not sure if such information would be of value to this group.

    One comment for Robert, though: When a person reacts to the child who “bumps into you and makes you spill hot sauce all over the stove and on your arm” with anger, it’s called an “amygdala hijack.” But even this is fundamentally a function of value structures. I know lots of people who would rightly be more concerned about the child than the mess or even their arm, because they instinctively know (and it is scientifically and mathematically true) than the child is of greater value than either. They would react with love, care and concern, not anger.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Peter,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I would like to say that I didn’t bring up “value” because of space concerns, but the truth is I really didn’t think much about it except in the role of emotions helping us weigh factors in a decision. Thanks for bringing it up.

    I would very much like to see the “lost paragraphs.” To be honest, as a layman I struggle with the literature a bit but I’m interested enough to plod through:-))

    For everybody else, I encourage you to visit the site of Peter’s company at http://www.thementisgroup.com/

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  10. October 25, 2009

    Peter,
    Thank you for that insight. Of course the child example is strictly hypothetical and I’m sure there are people who can refrain from instantly reacting with anger. Maybe it was a bad example. I was merely trying to make the point that our emotions come instantly, way before we have time to weigh our options logically or rationally.
    In a normal day the average man probably makes a couple of hundred decisions. I would say that the bulk of those decisions will be made on emotional grounds.
    What they will have for lunch? What shirt to buy or wear? Which phone to go with, and so on.
    I know that when I choose the iPhone it wasn’t because of the features – at the time of it’s release it was a crappy phone that lacked the possibility of sending MMS or syncing via bluetooth and a bunch of other features that I was used to from my previous phone. But the second I layed eyes on that beauty I was hooked, simply because I liked the shape and looks of it. Even though I already had an iPod which had a lot more disc space and a walkman phone, I knew I had to have the iPhone.
    My logic never had a chance against my emotions. My emotions decided in an instant and then it even employed my logic to convince me that it was right to go with the iPhone.
    And the fact of the matter is that we constantly – against our better knowledge – do business with people we like, buy what’s good looking, cheer for the hopeless home team, and marry the gorgeous poor one without a savings account.

    Still – and this is the part that really baffles me – there are companies trying to sell their stuff with rational and logical arguments.

    Greg,
    “Sources of power” just landed in my mailbox. Thank’s for the tip.

    [Reply]

  11. October 26, 2009

    Hi Robert. Yes, our emotions do create almost instantaneous reactions. Interestingly, our emotions are greatly driven by our value structures. For example, when we value control or having our way, anything that threatens our control or how we want things to be can create an instantaneous response. When we value what other people think of us too much, we will have a deep emotional response when someone treats us poorly or says they don’t trust us. Depending on one’s value structure, this may result in anger towards the other person or in self-deprecation, sadness or upset with oneself.

    Basic examples, but illustrative. So what was it that you valued that generated an emotional response to the iPhone? If you look honestly, it could be that you perceived it as a status symbol. It could also be that you value slick gadgetryand having the latest makes you feel good about yourself, or perhaps even better than others. It may none of these, but is is something.

    The idea that our logic and reason “never have a chance” is the primary reason why having high levels of self-awareness and value-centeredness is so important. For most people our emotions don’t “get the best of us” they elicit the worst in us. Personal mastery is about knowing he difference between emotions that sabotage (and what’s driving them) and emotions that add value (which are not limited to positive emotions). Contrary to Mr. Spock’s Vulcan perspective, emotions are one of God greatest sifts to us. Like any gift, we must learn to use them wisely.

    Ok, back to advertising, and in response to Greg’s question about the deleted paragraphs…

    What we know is that every choice, action and reaction (including emotional) is value driven. You have never made a single choice in our entire lives that wasn’t, at that moment, an attempt to add greater value to our life. We are hard-wired this way, and we can’t help it. Even acting out on a mean streak and harming someone else, to the mean person looks like a “good” thing to do (even if they are not consciously thinking about it).

    That being the case, advertisers need to know that know people will never buy a product or service unless they perceive that it will add value to their life. This is old news, of course. Salespeople say “sell the benefits, not the features.” Going deeper, then, the benefits must communicated in a way that has relevance to the prospect’s life. Only then will it produce the emotional response that says “I have to buy it.” (which Apple/AT&T did brilliantly with the iPhone to capture the early adopters. By the way, I have one too.)

    To be honest, not being an expert in the advertising field, I don’t know what of the recent findings is new and relevant. But it would seem that any new insight and science or technology that helps us to understand motivation would be quite useful. Here’s what I do know: when what is being communicated is highly resonant with a person’s view of themselves and the world, and offers a value proposition in excess of the cost (time, money, effort) required to get it. They will buy. My suspicion is that neuro-axiology can help advertisers find ways to effectively communicate their message to the right audience.

    Having said that, frankly, I have concerns that it could be used for less than honorable purposes as well.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Peter,

    Psychographic profiles are widely used by marketers and values are considered important. However, these tools aren’t used the way most people think. There is no attempt to “brainwash” (at least by anybody who knows what they’re doing).

    For the most part these profiles are used for segmentation. The biggest issue in advertising today is clutter, so getting your ad noticed is difficult. You need to be sure that you are showing the right product with the right message to the right person, or consumers will just filter you out.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  12. November 15, 2009

    Greg,

    You wrote: This process is called canalization and underlies all human experience. When this is combined with implicit priming then it is clear that preconscious implicit biases are dominant factors in our behavior and decision-making.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    I did? Where?

    Greg

    [Reply]

  13. November 23, 2009

    Thanks for the very interesting article, Greg – and for stimulating a deeper discussion.

    I happened upon Descartes’ Error several years ago in a library remainders pile, and found its insights useful in my work as a digital strategist and marketer.

    More recently I’ve been struggling to connect those dots with evolutionary psychology. I figure this group can help me with that.

    Some additional books I believe add to the discussion (not affiliate links):

    * Dan Gardner’s The Science of Fear; http://www.amazon.com/Science-Fear-Culture-Manipulates-Brain/dp/0452295467/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258986895&sr=8-2

    * Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational; http://www.amazon.com/Predictably-Irrational-Revised-Expanded-ebook/dp/B002C949KE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258986999&sr=8-1

    * Satoshi Kanazawa and Alan Miller’s Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters; http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-People-Have-Daughters-ebook/dp/B000UZQHN4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258987076&sr=8-2

    Additional insights and reading suggestions would be most helpful to me.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Susan,

    Thanks. I have a stack of unread books, but I’ll try and check them out.

    Also, if you like evolutionary psychology, E. O. Wilson is a must read. He founded the field (although he called it Sociobiology).

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  14. Ibrahim Moss permalink
    December 7, 2009

    Greg:

    I am not so sure how you manage to to do, but you always hit home runs. The article is simply brilliant.

    A few years ago, a VP at my old company turned me on to Edward Bernays — he is Sigmund Freud’s nephew (by marriage), and more significantly regarded as the father of Public Relations. Bernays took a few pages out of Freud’s ‘ “playbook” and devised methods for increasing the sale of cigarettes to women. His successes are for the record books. (For a starter, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays). He is also a fascinating story on advertising.

    I very much liked your discussion on Descarte. You provided a nice and understandable measure for all of us who constitute that balk of the pedestrian thinkers. So thanks.

    When reading your discussion on the “Error”, I thought about Eckhart Tolle’s discussion of the same in his book called, A New Earth (one of two of Oprah Winfrey’s gift to Stanford’ Graduation class of 2008). Tolle is a wonderful read, but in a different content. That said, some of your fans may want to check him out: http://www.eckharttolle.com.

    My friend, keep up your excellent work. You are really one of the more brilliant thinkers around.

    Ibrahim

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Ibrahim,

    Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll check them out.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  15. December 7, 2009

    I’m a little late to this discussion, but I must say it’s been a terrific thread. The Lehrer book has been getting a lot of buzz and it’s on my “to read” list as well. Happy holiday!

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Caryn,

    Thanks. You have a happy holiday as well.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  16. sam permalink
    December 9, 2009

    Hi Greg,
    Thanks for starting up a stimulating one. I Kinda agree with the values dictum which is a pointer to the bias of the emotion which then influences the decision making process.

    Thinking of my littl boy, I am sure my first major fright would be his well being, then concern for my arm’s well being and then the scoldings, etc etc .

    How all this and the effects of advertising on my buying trends works out, I gotta think some more.

    Sam

    [Reply]

  17. January 2, 2010

    Greg,

    Another good book on the subject is “How We Decide”

    http://www.amazon.com/How-We-Decide-Jonah-Lehrer/dp/0618620117

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Kevin,

    Thanks. I’ve hear good things about the book, but haven’t had the chance to read it yet.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  18. January 4, 2010

    You wrote: “Furthermore, LeDoux found that emotions (specifically he studies fear) release chemicals that help induce synapse building (so our survival instinct improves over time). His research suggests that rather than being separate from our rationality, emotions are inextricably linked to our major cognitive actions: learning, memory and decision making.”

    Several years ago there was a study where two groups watched an identical slide presentation; one with a strongly emotional context, the other with no emotion at all. One week later, both groups were brought back for a surprise quiz and the group watching the emotional presentation out-scored the other by a factor of (I believe) 2-to-1.

    Here’s what was interesting: They redid the experiment except that the group watching the emotional content were given Beta-blockers which inhibited the production of adrenaline (which the brain secretes when in an emotional state). The result: This time the group watching the emotional content scored the the same as the with non-emotional group.

    In my business (training/events) keeping the audience/trainees in an engaged emotional state is absolutely critical to our (and our client’s) success.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Dan,

    Thanks. That’s a really interesting study.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  19. March 16, 2011

    Hi Greg

    I’ve recently discovered you blog. Lots of great stuff. Besides the blog posts themselves I really like the references you use to back up what you are saying. I am working on an article on elearning, learning and “learning styles” and really like how you describe “How We Learn”, especially this part:

    “Moreover, when a new event is paired with something more familiar, synapses are built up faster and more easily. Chemically speaking, the new memory just hitches a ride on the old one, which makes learning by association effective”.

    The whole section on “How We Learn” makes sense to me on a many levels, but do you have any references to anything proving that what you are saying is scientifically true? I don’t doubt it is – just need backup:-)

    Cheers
    Tomas Lund

    Ps. we need not have a discussion on “learning styles” – I don’t believe in them:-)

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Tomas,

    I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying Digital Tonto!

    Probably the best source I can give you is Synaptic Self by Joseph Ledoux. It’s a bit hard to get through, but highly worth it.

    Good luck!

    – Greg

    [Reply]

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