Triggering Fear (Mainly of Loss) Wins Again


“Bloodthirsty Charities by Kevin Charles Redmon  March 14, 2013
Have you given blood lately? Donated to a local non-profit? Do you remember the appeal that moved you to open your vein or pocketbook?

Odds are, it was a dire message (“Help prevent a needless death”) rather than a cheerful one (“Help save an innocent life”). That’s the key finding from a collaborative study between the Red Cross and researchers at Northwestern and the University of Virginia….humanity’s well-documented “loss aversion” is a far more powerful motivator than “gain promotion” in giving.

Charitable giving—whether dollars or blood cells—has fallen steeply in the recession, and non-profits across the country are struggling to keep their balance sheets in the black and their blood banks in the red…non-profit world’s winners and losers differed in how they framed their public appeals.

  • “the appeals of all of the six top charities that experienced donation decreases stressed their recipients’ need for gains
  • “In sharp contrast…the appeals of the four top charities that experienced donation increases all focused on their recipients’ losses if help was not forthcoming…

…ad agencies and public health officials already rely on loss aversion to sharpen their messaging. (Women who are warned of the dangers of not performing self breast-exams, for example, are better at remembering to check for lumps than women who are reminded of a self-exam’s benefits.)

The authors, in partnership with the Red Cross, decided to test the impact of “loss” vs. “gain” messaging in a real-world setting: a blood drive….students who’d received the “prevent a death” message were two-thirds more likely to make a donation than students who’d received either the “save a life” or control messages.”


What Is Visual Selection


As marketers, we are spending more time on the primary visual processing system.  It may not be the whole story but seems a place to start.

Take Aways

  • it is likely that before top-down influences can have an effect, the visual system is biased towards salient stimuli that resolve the competition simply on the basis of the bottom-up input.
  • We consider these effects to be bottom-up because the effects cannot be counteracted by volitional top-down control top-down & bottom-up control to a location results in a greater neuronal sensitivity (i.e., a decreased threshold).

What is visual selection?
Imagine a situation in which the visual system is confronted with two different objects….Within the visual system, these two objects
compete and question is which object wins this competition and drives neurons throughout the visual system forming an ensemble of neurons that represent this one single object. In line with the biased competition model attention biases these competitive interactions such that attended stimuli receive priority over unattended stimuli.

Attentional effects on resolving this competition are the result of bottom-up and top-down factors. The bottom-up signal depends on the (acquired) properties of the stimulus field.

Objects that are highly salient and stand out from the background may immediately receive attention priority. Indeed, it is likely that before top-down influences can have an effect, the visual system is biased towards salient stimuli that resolve the competition simply on the basis of the bottom-up input.  Bottom-up signals can also be acquired through inter-trial priming, conditioning or reward contingencies. We consider these effects to be bottom-up because the effects cannot be counteracted by volitional top-down control top-down & bottom-up control to a location results in a greater neuronal sensitivity (i.e., a decreased threshold).

Another way to bias the competition within the visual system is through top-down volitional feedback signals that depend on the goals, intentions and expectations of the observer.  For example:

  • directing attention in a volitional way to a specific location in space increases the sensory gain for features at that location and appears to alter the apparent stimulus contrast
  • These results imply that the directing attention is endogenous and is often referred to as goal-driven selection.

As a metaphor visual attention has been compared to a spotlight that “selects” parts of the visual world around us.  Visual attention allows people to select information that is relevant for their ongoing behavior. For several decades, there has been agreement that there are two functionally independent stages of visual processing.

  • An early visual stage, sometimes referred to as pre-attentive operating in parallel across the visual field
  • a later stage often referred to as attentive that can deal with only one (or a few items) at the same time.

Even though the dichotomy between these two stages is not as strict as originally assumed, in almost all past and present theories of visual attention this basic architecture is more or less still present.  Given the two-stage framework, it is generally assumed that visual selection depends principally on the outcome of the early stage of visual processing.

  • Processing occurring during the initial wave of stimulation through the brain, determines which element is selected and is passed on to the second stage of processing
  • In line with the two-stage approach, passing on an item to the second stage of processing implies that this item has been selected for further processing.
  • According to this notion, from all objects that are present in the visual field (and are available at the early preattentive stage of processing), each time an object is passed on the final stage of processing, it will affect decision making and responding.
  • This passing on from the initial stage of preattentive processing to attentive processing is what is considered to be visual selection.

The selection of one object out of many objects that are available during the initial preattentive stage of parallel processing is what we consider visual selection. Note that in some conditions the preattentive, parallel stage of processing plays basically no role. In that case there is no salience calculation across the visual field and an object is selected purely on the basis of spatial

Does Our Visual System Work Top-Down or Bottom-Up? Mainly Bottom-Up


It is pretty much anathema to believe that consciousness ans subjective experiences and the goal directed stuff of our brain does not control our behavior starting with the visual system.  Everyone, including most scientists believe that, top-down, the “self” and “higher order concepts” and parts of the brain are in charge.  We have always been suspicious of this since it so neatly fits popular beliefs and ideologies.

Here is some data demonstrating otherwise.

The present paper argues for the notion that:

  • when attention is spread across the visual field in the first sweep of information through the brain
  • visual selection is completely stimulus-driven.
  • Only later in time, through recurrent feedback processing, volitional control based on expectancy and goal set will bias visual selection in a top–down manner.

It is argued that:

  • in most cases evidence supporting top–down control on visual selection in fact demonstrates top–down control on processes occurring later in time, following initial selection
  • We conclude that top–down knowledge regarding non-spatial features of the objects [e.g. value, emotions] cannot alter the initial selection priority.
  • Only by adjusting the size of the attentional window, the initial sweep of information through the brain may be altered in a top–down way Continue reading

“Long-term memory is costly. To encode a memory, the brain needs to synthesize many proteins that ultimately lead to changes in synaptic strength, which is thought to be the molecular mechanism behind memory storage.”


Great Musicianship is a Matter of Milleseconds – 5 ms to Be (Really) Exact


Holy sh–t!! FIVE one thousandth of a second…!!!…groan….

The close-up shows that Ray Charles finger snap time deltas are less than 5 milliseconds.  Given the tight rhythmic style of this recording, and the fact that Ray Charles was one of the 20th century’s best musicians
Continue reading

“Suppressing the Brain’s Filter Can Improve Performance in Creative Tasks”


Penn Researchers Show that Suppressing the Brain’s Filter Can Improve Performance in Creative Tasks

“The real takeaway…is that when you give people a task for which they do not know the goal — such as showing them an object and asking, ‘What else can you do with this thing’ — anything that they would normally do to filter out irrelevant information about the object will hurt their ability to do the task.” Continue reading