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Archive for the category “Neuro Science”

Backing up your brain. One little app at a time.

A few weeks ago I celebrated by birthday. While I am not an 8 year old anymore to care about birthdays, what struck me most was the number of good wishes I received. From a dozen or so greetings a few years ago, I received hundreds, perhaps a thousand messages this time.

So what has changed? Facebook, obviously. Those useful little notifications that appear on the right top of our streams. Sure. But that’s missing a broader trend.

Einstein’s telephone number. The story goes that when someone asked Albert Einstein his phone number, Einstein replied that he didn’t remember it. This startled the man who was well aware of Einstein’s genius. Mr Relativity had to then clarify that when his phone number was easily available in a telephone directory, there was no point of him remembering it and crowding up his memory,

Remembering to forget. Starting with a telephone directory to new digital platforms like Facebook, Google and Outlook calendar, apps like Rememeberthemilk and programs like Basecamp we have started to slowly outsource our brain. By setting up alerts and reminders we are using technology to help us forget days, times and activities that would have otherwise added noise to our already overwhelmed brains.

I don’t bother to remember to pay my utility bills anymore as I have set them all up in the automated system that my bank provides. With SMS messages that arrive month after month, I only keep a notional track of bills that have come in and have automatically been paid out.

I have gone further, with tools like CarLocator that helps me remember where I parked my car in a busy parking lot.  Or whosthat?, an app that I, err, use discreetly, to help me remember names of people who I have met, and may have forgotten, and therefore avoid real world social embarrassments.

Carbon meets silicone. The brain outsourcing business is still in its infancy with simple apps that need our intervention to take over things we want them to. But this could soon change, with scientists finding ways to connect carbon based humans and silicon based computers seamlessly. British Scientist Kevin Warwick has been working on wiring silicon based interfaces that can send signals between a human body and a computer. In fact he has had a chip implanted in his own arm more than a decade ago and has been experimenting with ways to turn analog signals from his body into little pieces of digital software that once activated on a computer will be able to create a reaction in his body.

Others believe we can take it further. With inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil foreseeing that we will, in our own lifetimes, be able to download our memories, thoughts, emotions and consciousness into a hard drive. He has written several books on the subject and at 63 is working towards being one of the first humans to be able to seamlessly move from being a man to a machine. Computers are already better than humans at logic, he says and it is just a matter of time when we will be able to transfer our emotional intelligence into a computer.

There are others too who agree with the Kurzweil line of thinking. Ian Pearson, head of the futurology at British Telecom has put a date to when we will be able to seamlessly download minds into a machine. 2050, he says, if you are rich enough, add another 25 years for poor guys like me.

I have seen heaven. So what does happy birthday alerts and online bill payment systems tell us about longevity and immortality? That, unbeknownst to us, we have started our journey from being creatures of carbon, to having our memory and our consciousness preserved in a server farm somewhere. With Apple launching iOS 5 sometime in October, and the promise of free or low cost digital storage on iCloud and elsewhere, we are slowly and steadily uploading our lives onto silicon. With his ongoing battle with cancer, Steve Jobs may not make it. But his vision could help me live forever, in silicon heaven, on a cloud somewhere.

This story appeared in FirstPost. You can read it here 

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Creativity And Thinking Far

Apparently there’s an easy way to increase creativity. By creating an effect called psychological distance Indiana university researchers have been able create a feeling that if the problem is further away then it really is and hence increases chances of creativity. Why does psychological distance increase creativity? According to CLT, psychological distance affects the way we mentally represent things, so that distant things are represented in a relatively abstract way while psychologically near things seem more concrete. More in Scientific American

Buyology

Martin Lindstrom
Author and Advertising Age editor Martin Lindstrom spent millions of dollars to peep into consumers brains on exactly why they buy. Why showing gory images on packs of cigarettes actually makes people smoke more. How some brands work in the same way as religion does. And how indirect advertising does really work. Read the book chapter by chapter online here.

Brands in the brain. The truth, like you never expected.

In an effort to reduce spillage in men’s urinals, authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess. But if you give them a target, they can’t help but try to hit it. Did it work? Since the bugs were etched into the airport urinals, spillage has decreased by 80 percent.

Admen have known this to be true. That human beings are nudgeable. This is why Apple users happily pay hundreds of dollars more for a computer that does pretty much exactly the same things that a Dell computer does. Despite knowing that our outlook on the world can be moulded by messages, subtle or harsh, no one can really tell us why such a thing really happens.

FutureLab points us to an experiment that Jim Edwards of Brandweek undertook to understand exactly how our brains work when it came to brands. He became a willing guinea pig and had his brain scanned by Joy Hirsch, director of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center at Columbia University, while viewing brands he liked and disliked. While he writes mostly about his personal experience, some of the results are exactly opposite of what most marketers and planners have believed.

The most striking parts of Jim Edward’s experience: My brain processed high-value brands on its left side, handling the low-value ones on the right. That’s not what one would expect, since the so-called left-brain is traditionally associated with conceptual processing and the right with emotions.

In my case, the high-value brands activated three areas: my left angular gyrus, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and my left orbitofrontal gyrus. Those systems are associated with the extraction of meaning, conceptual organization and reward respectively. “I haven’t seen that before,” Hirsch said. “My curiosity is piqued by that.”

Mine, too. When it came to brands I dislike, I apparently really disliked them. My right insula – an internal fold just over an inch in length – is lit up like a runway. “Now, your brain isn’t that big, but it’s devoted on your right side to something where you’re saying, ‘That’s a low-value item for me,’” Hirsch explained. Worse, the insula is understood to handle feelings of disgust. “That is not a result to be trifled with,” Hirsch said.

And that’s the big surprise: These results are the exact opposite of the received marketing wisdom. I’m not, apparently, emotional about brands I like. Instead, my brain behaves like an antiques dealer sifting an estate sale for high-priced items. My emotional feelings – specifically disgust – are reserved for the brands I dislike. And I don’t merely ignore those brands like clutter; I process them through the area of my brain that helps me avoid rotten food and poisonous berries.

Read More in Good Magazine here. And in Brandweek, here.

When The Brain Did A Blink. The Science Of Neuromarketing.

Did you hear that? Your brain just did a blink. It had a ‘cognitive jolt’, as a neuroscientist would say. With the newsletter in Greek, we violated your expectation, didn’t we?

Why Greek, you may ask. Well we know very few of you read through the newsletter anyway so even if it is in Greek or Russian, how does it matter? But for the few who have come this far lets get to the point.

It’s all about neuroscience, or neuromarketing, more sharply. With the proliferation of technologies that can peer into our brains real-time, marketers are now capable of understanding, in much greater depth, how people will react to ads, packaging and other marketing messages.

Recent breakthrough in brain science is helping companies to actually see what goes on inside our minds. In this video from TED Christopher deCharms shows you how new technology is able to reconstruct what our brains feel, in seconds as opposed to weeks and months, just a few years ago. Teams of academic and corporate neuromarketers have begun to hook people up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and Electroencephalography (EEG) machines to map how their neurons respond to products and pitches.

Your double-take on opening the newsletter would have shown up on these machines telling researchers that there is a probability that the approach will have connected with a larger number of readers and created a lot more conversation.

One of the companies that is putting neuromarketing to test is EmSense Corporation. Recently they wired up the brains of some 200 volunteers as they tried to test some Cannes and Effie award winning work. The study looked at Apple’s Mac Vs PC ads and Nike’s I Feel Pretty commercial featuring Maria Sharapova.

Fifteen of the 19 Cannes and Effie winners engaged consumers faster than average spots, said Elissa Moses, chief analytics officer at EmSense. “Typically, a spot engages with viewers in 5 to 7 seconds. The Cannes and Effie ads engaged, whether emotionally or cognitively, in 1.5 seconds.”

Coke became a client of EmSense late last year to help it decide which two TV ads to place in the Super Bowl. (It was the first time the company used brainwave and biometric data to help select and edit its Super Bowl ads.) In the weeks leading up to the game, the Coke’s agency Wieden & Kennedy produced about a dozen new ads for possible placement. The Coke marketing team was counting on EmSense to help it make the right choices.

The EmSense device, shaped like a thin, plastic headband, reads brain waves and monitors the breathing, heart rate, blinking and skin temperatures of consumers who preview ads to measure their emotional and cognitive responses.

According to Katie Bayne, CMO of Coca-Cola North America, the device not only helped whittle down the list of spots, but also aided in editing the two ads chosen to air — “It’s Mine,” and the “Jinx” ad. For example, she says, the music in “It’s Mine” was adjusted in the days leading up to the game to build in more of a crescendo than in the original version of the spot.

With neuromarketing, marketers, researchers and agencies are walking a thin line between what’s legal and how deep we can go into our minds and predict outcomes for purchase. The Russian bit is just a trick to see how just a tiny bit of the unexpected can dramatically change the outcomes of an execution.

Our Brain And Money

No money in your bank account? Blame your brain. Scientists in the emerging field of “neuroeconomics” – a hybrid of neuroscience, economics and psychology – are making stunning discoveries about how the brain evaluates rewards, sizes up risks and calculates probabilities. This story, from CNN Money Magazine looks into the wonders of imaging technology that can observe the precise neural circuitry that switches on and off in our brains when we invest. Those pictures make it clear that our investing brain often drives us to do things that make no logical sense – but make perfect emotional sense. The human brain developed to improve our species’ odds of survival. You, like every other human, are wired to crave what looks rewarding and shun what seems risky. To counteract these impulses, your brain has only a thin veneer of modern, analytical circuits that are often no match for the power of the ancient parts of your mind. And when you win, lose or risk money, you stir up some profound emotions, including hope, surprise, regret, greed and fear. Coming to greed, why is it so hard for most of us to learn that the old saying “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is true? After all, we feel as if it should. The answer lies in a cruel irony that has enormous implications for financial behavior: our brains come equipped with a biological mechanism that is more aroused when we anticipate a profit than when we get one. The other emotion that’s discussed in depth here is fear. How, what people are afraid of may not be that scary in pure analytical terms. The implication of how studies like these could make a difference to the way we think of money is still unclear. But it all worth read, anyway.

The Irrational Human

Behind the millions of online auctions at eBay lies a goldmine of data that researchers can use to study human behaviour. Ulrike Malmendier, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, spent time on the site to understand how people spend their money on auctions. The study has proven once again that shoppers act in unexpected ways. She and her team tracked 166 auctions offering “CashFlow 101,” a personal-finance-themed board game. During the seven-month trial, the game’s designer sold the box set on his website for $195. Meanwhile, eBay sellers usually offered an opening price of about $45 and set a one-click, “buy it now” price of about $125. It looked like a great deal for buyers. They could pay less than retail to end the auction immediately or place bids in the hope of fetching an even lower price. But this is where eBay users fell prey to what Malmendier and her co-author, Stanford University economist Hanh Lee, call “bidder’s curse. “Apparently, some bidders grew so enthusiastic about winning the auction that they lost sight of the “buy it now” price, sometimes offering more than $185. They found that in 43 percent of the auctions the bidders ended up paying more than the ‘buy it now’ price. Malmendier says, they did larger studies involving iPods, perfumes and colognes and in 40 to 50% of times eBay auctions exceeded the “buy it now” price. More on Ebay.

Brands in the Brain

Millward Brown’s Nigel Hollis has a very interesting post on how we store brand messages in the brain. Recent scientific evidence points to the fact that we don’t store coherent images of anything, not even the most powerful brands, in our heads. Bits and pieces of information are stored in different areas of the brain and they all well up into a sort of a drawing board, sort of space to become an image. The evidence suggests that the more frequently we draw on our mental associations to form a representation of a brand, the stronger and more complete the representation becomes. So this repeated mental ‘rehearsal’ of what the brand is about, helps to build clarity and maximize the chance that the brand will be recognized and found desirable. Read More on Engaging Customers’ Brains in this Millward brown PDF.

Science of Creativity

An interesting series on NPR explores the mind and all that’s creative. This podcast is specifically on the subject: Neuroscience of Creativity. One of the key points that distinguishes creative geniuses from the rest of us is that they are very good with execution. Scientists think that the truly creative people are very good at seeing their ideas to fruition.

Mind Performance Hacks

The brain is a piece of software, only more complex. So it was only time until some bright boy discovered ways to improve the way it operates. Mentat is a wiki that supports the book Mind Performance Hacks. It shows you how you can optimise various mental processes like memory, creativity, emotional response, learning, and logical analysis. It’s a great place to teach your mind tricks, like how to forget.

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