From: Dace (email@example.com)
Date: Wed 30 Nov 2005 - 21:35:58 GMT
This article appeared in the October 24 edition of Time. Can be interpreted
in terms of memetic engineering. Follows the standard approach of
conflating mind with brain. Quotes a researcher asking how the brain makes
decisions about what car to buy or what to have for lunch, thereby placing
us in our brains instead of the other way around.
Getting inside your head
By Terry McCarthy
Marketers already seem to know a lot about how we think, but what if they
could actually watch our brains work as they test their products? A recent
experiment by Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine,
may be laying the groundwork for just that. In an experiment last year, he
scanned volunteers' brains as they drank samples of Coke and Pepsi. When the
colas were not identified, the tasters showed no particular preference for
either. But when they were shown the iconic red-and-white label, they
expressed a huge preference for Coke, irrespective of which cola they were
actually sampling. Coke's logo, the scans showed, lit up areas in the brain
associated with pleasure expectation in a way that Pepsi's did not.
Montague's conclusion: Coke's more pervasive brand marketing affected
volunteers' preferences in ways they didn't realize--even if they were
normally Pepsi drinkers.
Get ready for an Era of the Brain. New scanning techniques are making it
easier to determine how our minds work and creating hopes in the corporate
world that companies can make new connections with customers--and duplicate
the Coke effect. The breakthrough behind all that is the development of
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the latest in neuroimaging
technology, which displays not only the structure of the brain but also how
it actually functions, by measuring its blood flow. In the scans, specific
areas of the brain light up as various mental processes occur. Although the
technology is still in its infancy, the potential for looking inside the
mind is already attracting researchers from other disciplines. Hybrid fields
like neuroethics and neuroeconomics are emerging so rapidly that neuro may
well become investors' next hot prefix. (So long, nano?)
What's creating the most excitement is a project called the International
Consortium for Brain Mapping, a 12-year collaborative effort to create an
atlas of the human brain, based on scans of 7,000 brains from three
continents. Coordinated by John Mazziotta, who runs the Ahmanson-Lovelace
Brain Mapping Center at UCLA, the brain atlas is due to be released online
next year. Data are being stored and analyzed on a supercomputer at UCLA
with 1 petabyte of capacity--equivalent to a book with 250 billion pages.
"They are laying the groundwork for all other brain studies to come," says Allan Jones, of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.
The immediate benefit would be at the clinical level. The atlas would give
researchers and physicians around the world access to virtual maps of how
the brain functions, to compare with data they obtain from scans of their
subjects or patients. By the end of next year, they should be able to
project local scans free of charge into the online atlas via a computer
technique called "warping." That will immediately show if some part of the
brain appears to be working abnormally, compared with norms established by
the scans of the 7,000 "healthy" brains. "We can do very tight matches. For
example, you could look for all left-handed Chinese women in their 20s with
two years of college and make a match," says Mazziotta. The atlas' scanning
techniques could also be used to speed drug trials, since researchers could
compare images of the brain before, during and after the administration of a
new medication--and then compare those images with brains in the atlas.
But the atlas should also provide a springboard for a broader range of
experiments. "Neuroimaging is more than finding the next drug for anxiety,"
says Allan Schore, a neuroscientist at the UCLA David Geffen School of
Medicine. "We can study empathy, trust, deception, emotional communication,
regulation of violence--issues that are central to human existence."
Neuroimaging is also extending into the fields of politics and commerce. Tom
Freedman, a former senior adviser to the Clinton Administration, along with
his brother Joshua, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, last year founded FKF
Applied Research, a company that uses fMRI to study decision making. In the
run-up to the presidential election, they found differences in brain
activity between Bush and Kerry voters when they were shown political
advertisements. The Freedmans are also studying leadership qualities, by
looking at how people's brains respond to an image of someone they would be
willing to follow compared with that of someone they wouldn't. Both studies
could help politicians hone their campaign messages to appeal more
effectively to voters.
Corporate America, meanwhile, is hoping brain scanning can help sales. "The
big question for neuroeconomics is, How does the human brain make decisions
like which car to buy or what to have for lunch," says Antonio Rangel,
director of the neuroeconomics lab at Stanford. Research is showing that the
limbic system, which governs emotions, often overrides the logical areas of
the brain, suggesting that the "rational actor" theory of economics misses
deeper sources of motivation rooted in unconscious feelings and
interpersonal dynamics. Instead of aiming at consumers' logical
decision-making processes, companies could perhaps appeal to the fuzzier
side of how people feel about themselves and others around them.
Steven Quartz, director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at
Caltech, is one of many experts moving into neuromarketing. He is helping
Hollywood studios select trailers for new movies by scanning viewers as they
watch a series of scenes to see which ones elicit the strongest reactions in
the parts of the brain that are associated with reward expectations. Quartz,
who works in partnership with market-research company Lieberman Research
Worldwide, is similarly scanning consumers to identify emotional reactions
to TV commercials and to products' packaging design.
Neuromarketing has its share of critics. Gary Ruskin, executive director of
Commercial Alert, a nonprofit group that Ralph Nader set up to monitor
commercial forces in society, sent letters to the U.S. Senate Commerce
Committee in July 2004 calling for an investigation into the practice.
Commercial Alert says it fears neuromarketers could "peer into our brains"
and control our buying behavior. Joshua Freedman of FKF says such fears are
misplaced. "Some people view this like Frankenstein and brain control, but I
think that science, by trying to understand what goes on in human brains,
should be very freeing by helping people understand how they make
"This technology is unstoppable," says Stanford's Rangel. That is precisely
what motivated Mazziotta to set up the atlas project in the first place:
with the proliferation of scanning, there was a flood of information about
the brain but nowhere to put it. "Up to now there has been no way to compare
imaging work done in one lab to another, or from one person to another. We
needed to have some way to organize all this data." The trick now is to
figure out how best to use it.
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
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