This new research represents "the first thing you could call a neural focus group," Lieberman said.
One reason focus groups can be misleading, he said, is that people often do not know what motivates their own behavior.
"Our brain is built to generate reasons for our actions," Lieberman said, "and we think the reasons we come up with must be true. We believe our own reasons with an intensity that is out of proportion to their accuracy. In this study, we are bypassing people's self-reports and getting at a form of hidden wisdom in the brain.
"We wanted to determine what kind of brain activity serves as the catalyst between people seeing a message and whether they actually change their behavior," he said. "This is the region we identified. We have tested it multiple times, and each time, it has been successful."
John Wanamaker, a 19th-century U.S. department store pioneer, famously said he wasted half the money he spent on advertising, but "the trouble is I don't know which half." Many people since Wanamaker have hoped to predict which advertising campaigns will succeed or fail before committing their advertising dollars.
"We're too late for Wanamaker, but now we have a method for figuring out which ads will succeed," Lieberman said.
The 30 smokers in the study were between the ages of 28 and 69; half were female.
Brain regions associated with thinking analytically have not been consistently associated with whether people change their behavior in these studies, Lieberman said. The medial prefrontal cortex is associated not with analytical thinking but with self-reflection thinking about our own identity as well as what we like
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles