Neuroscientists Can Predict Your Behavior Better Than You Can

Standard

“There is a very long history within psychology of people not being very good judges of what they will actually do in a future situation.  Many people ‘decide’ to do things but then don’t do them.”

The new study shows:

  • If you just go by what people say they will do, you get fewer than half of the people accurately predicted, and using this brain region, we could do significantly better.” “While most people’s self-reports are not very accurate, they do not realize their self-reports are wrong so often in predicting future behavior”
  • “It is surprising to find out that some technique might be able to predict my own behavior better than I can.
  • Yet the brain seems to reveal something important that we may not even realize.” Increased activity in a brain region called the medial prefrontal cortex among individuals viewing and listening to public service announcement slides on the importance of using sunscreen strongly indicated that these people were more likely to increase their use of sunscreen the following week, even beyond the people’s own expectations
  • From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do

In a study with implications for the advertising industry and public health organizations, UCLA neuroscientists have shown they can use brain scanning to predict whether people will use sunscreen during a one-week period even better than the people themselves can.

Lieberman and Falk focused on part of the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex:

  • Which is located in the front of the brain, between the eyebrows
  • This brain region is associated with self-reflection — thinking about what we like and do not like and our motivations and desires
  • It is the one region of the prefrontal cortex that we know is disproportionately larger in humans than in other primates
  • This region is associated with self-awareness and seems to be critical for thinking about yourself and thinking about your preferences and values

We saw a very reliable relationship, where for the vast majority of the 180,000 ways to divide the group up, this one region of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, does a very good job of predicting sunscreen use in the second group.”

This finding could be relevant to many public health organizations, as well as the advertising industry, Lieberman and Falk said.

“For advertisers, there may be a lot more that is knowable than is known, and this is a data-driven method for knowing more about how to create persuasive messages,” said Lieberman, one of the founders of social cognitive neuroscience.

Neural Focus Groups

“A problem with standard focus groups is that people are lousy at reporting what they will actually do.”

While advertising agencies often use focus groups to test commercials and movie trailers, in the future they and public health officials perhaps should add “neural focus groups” to test which messages will be effective while monitoring the brain activity of their subjects.

We have not had much to supplement that approach, but in the future it may be possible to create what we are calling ‘neural focus groups.’:

  • Instead of talking with people about what they think they will do
  • We can study their brains and learn what they are really likely to do and how an advertisement would be likely to affect millions of other people as well.”

“Given that there are emerging technologies that are relatively portable and approximate some of what fMRI can do at a fraction of the cost, looking to the brain to shape persuasive messages could become a reality,” Lieberman said. “But we’re just at the beginning.

  • This is one of the first papers on anything like this
  • There will be a series of papers over the next 10 years or more that will tell us what factors are driving neural responses
  • We hope to build a sophisticated model of persuasion that may incorporate multiple brain regions,”

While some people have emphasized reasoning and emotion as key areas on which to base advertising campaigns, a key question may be whether messages and advertisements can be produced that “make people feel, ‘This is about me and is relevant to my preferences and motivations,’” Falk said. “Perhaps effective messages reinforce our values, our self-identity, what motivates us. We will learn much more as we continue this line of research over the years.”

Neuroscientists will learn whether they can predict behavior better and are likely to obtain a more nuanced understanding of the roles played by different parts of brain regions, said Falk. She is interested in how to make more effective health and other public service messages aimed at young adults.

“There is still much we do not know about how to get people to make healthier choices,” Falk said. “We hope to learn much more about what makes messages more or less persuasive.” “There are many applications beyond how you make a good 30-second commercial,” he said, “including how teachers can communicate better so their students won’t tune out or how doctors can convince patients to stick to their instructions. We all use persuasion in some form or another every day.”

(Brain geek part – Ed)

The study shows:

  • Increased activity in a brain region called the medial prefrontal cortex among individuals viewing and listening to public service announcement slides on the importance of using sunscreen
  • Strongly indicated that these people were more likely to increase their use of sunscreen the following week
  • Even beyond the people’s own expectations.

Lieberman and Falk focused on part of the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, which is:

  • Located in the front of the brain, between the eyebrows
  • This brain region is associated with self-reflection
  • Thinking about what we like and do not like and our motivations and desires.

“It is the one region of the prefrontal cortex that we know is disproportionately larger in humans than in other primates,” Lieberman said. “This region is associated with self-awareness and seems to be critical for thinking about yourself and thinking about your preferences and values.”

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