The Frontal Lobe Asymmetry Model and Consumer Behavior


Bottom line:

This is a very ambitious set of claims and propositions covering vast areas of brain processes, marketing and consumer behavior. It is over reaching and implausible. However, it is also very appealing in the comprehensiveness of the model and it’s reported conclusions which support current marketing beliefs and perceived everyday experiences.

It proposes a very simple answer to some very complicated questions.

Strengths –
– The idea that getting something relatively cheaply and that this is mediated by need/desire – perceived or not — makes intuitive sense.
– This is a decent first descriptive study. But the lack of a more solid ties to all other behavioral work with animals and brain physiology and neuronal processes makes it’s seem an outlier. Consumer neural researchers have to start putting their work in the context of the most advanced brain science and not just other consumer and behavioral psych work.
Main flaws –
– Lack of useful animal models.
– “This is the first study to show that frontal EEG asymmetry predicts purchase decision.” Correlated not causal, yet. Needs replication.
– The best evidence is that go/no go behavior occurs simultaneously in different areas of the brain in 150ms. This model must address that window.
OK, here are the differences I am finding in my study from the paper:
– It is not clear emotions signal anything related to behavior. Someone as influential as LeDoux suggest not. The “fact” of emotions predicting or driving behaviors needs to be proven — it cannot be assumed based on past work. The tech is much better now.
– There is a great deal of work in money models of behavioral directionality or “choice” that occurs mainly in the LIP region not the PFC. Has this asymmetry been found in other animals? A mouse model should be easy to test.
– “a consumer’ s purchase decision involves a tradeoff between the pleasure derived from consumption and the pain of paying.” This seems very theoretical. We know from all other animal behavioral work that “getting” involves the immediate (150 ms) and unconscious movement between options. There is simply no time for perceived feelings to play any role.
– The word “decision” presumes what needs to be proven. We see behavior to “get” calling that a “decision” begs the question of the detailed mechanisms. “Decision” implies conscious processing which is premature – at best. Best to talk about behavior without evoking higher order concepts like “decision.”
– The proposed relationships between quality > price > preference seems a stretch.

Staments made as fact to support the arguments which are actually hypotheses and need to be further studied and proven:

– “Brand associations are formed when interacting with the brand (e.g., store visits and actual consumption) and during prior indirect brand exposures (e.g., via brand communications” It would be easy to test this with animals using familiar visual cues.

– “Consumers tend to perceive brands in the high-quality tier (e.g., national brands) as offering “comfort, security, and value,” whereas brands in the low- quality tier (e.g., private-label brands), offer lower prices but lower quality too ” This is based on one study and self-reports. We do not know if self-reports: 1) Correspond to any specific brain processes, 2) Are consistent, 3) Influence behavior. They may be but we need to prove that definitively before making all these other claims.

– “Given the discussion above, it would be expected that emotional- motivational factors play a greater role in determining purchase decision for national brand products compared with private-label products.” Boy, this is a BIG stretch. A much better study would have been to do some basic descriptive exploration around these claims rather than such elaborate theory building.

“This result suggests that the memory-related asymmetries observed during functional neuroimaging studies may not be critical for task performance.”

Positron emission tomography (PET) experiments have detected blood flow activations in right anterior prefrontal cortex during performance of a word stem cued recall task  and . Based on findings from a variety of PET studies, the “hemispheric encoding/retrieval asymmetry model” [44] was proposed to explain the role of the frontal lobes in episodic memory. This model asserts that left prefrontal cortex is preferentially involved in the encoding of new information into episodic memory, whereas right prefrontal cortex is more involved in episodic memory retrieval. As a neuropsychological test of this hypothesis, a group of frontal patients with lesions in areas 6, 8, 9, 10, 44, 45 and/or 46 (11 left, five right) were run on word stem cued recall under two semantic study conditions. As a group, these patients were not significantly impaired in cued recall. In the first but not the second experiment, left frontal patients recalled fewer words than controls. Right frontal patients were not impaired on either list. Right prefrontal cortex could be activated by several strategic aspects of the cued recall paradigm that were minimized in the present experiment. Brain reorganization in the lesioned patients could also account for their intact performance. The regions of prefrontal cortex activated in PET studies of young controls are not necessary for patients to perform the task. Copyright © 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd

The frontal lobes are widely implicated in logical reasoning. Recent neuroimaging studies suggest that frontal lobe involvement in reasoning is asymmetric (L>R) and increases with the presence of familiar, meaningful content in the reasoning situation. However, neuroimaging data can only provide sufficiency criteria. To determine the necessity of prefrontal involvement in logical reasoning, we tested 19 patients with focal frontal lobe lesions and 19 age‐ and education‐matched normal controls on the Wason Card Selection Task, while manipulating social knowledge. Patients and controls performed equivalently on the arbitrary rule condition. Normal controls showed the expected improvement in the social knowledge conditions, but frontal lobe patients failed to show this facilitation in performance. Furthermore, left hemisphere patients were more affected than right hemisphere patients, suggesting that frontal lobe involvement in reasoning is asymmetric (L>R) and necessary for reasoning about social situations.

“This leads us to postulate that, while left prefrontal cortex involvement is necessary for reasoning about familiar situations, it is probably not sufficient.  ”

“…environmental variables more significantly influence the width of the right compared to the left prefrontal lobe.” – in monkeys

Philosophy is Just More Magical Thinking, Like Voodoo


The core (false) promise of all magical beliefs is everyday language-based “Mind over matter.”  and “Action at a difference.”  Praying, to some god, is just subjective reports of individual experience.  So is voodoo, belief in the tooth fairy, belief in free will, philosophy, etc.

Well, philosophy is just more of the same.  It presumes that words and everyday language matter to human behavior and explain the world.  Well, it doesn’t and never really has.  But, it is a very popular marketing/sales promise – look at religion!  VERY profitable.   Economists make the same false promise.

No “Decision” – “Decision Making”


This is the model we are buying based on our research.  No room, or need from pretty much all of our subjective experiences and current models of consciousness, choice, value, executive function, self/personality, etc.

How “Decisions” Really Get Made – Instantly and Unconsciously


My views on decision making, choice, executive function, cognitive workspace, emotions, consciousness I take from Paul Cisek – bottom line: “decisions” get made in the premotor brain areas, instantly.  The following is a bit technical but if you don’t understand something — Google it! Continue reading

The Aging Brain


As predicted, white matter integrity was associated with probabilistic reward learning. [White matter is the structural infrastructure of the brain, not the processing part].


  • increased white matter integrity in thalamocortical and corticostriatal paths was associated with better reward learning performance
  • diminished integrity in these paths mediated the association between age and poor performance
  • consistent with specificity, individual differences in other cognitive variables and the integrity of other paths could not account for these associations.

Although current analyses focused on the role of structural integrity in mediating age differences, relationships between white matter integrity and reward learning hold when controlling for age. Thus, the findings reveal a more general relationship between individual differences in thalamocorticostriatal integrity and probabilistic reward learning.

These findings build upon and extend existing documented associations between age differences in white matter and a wide range of cognitive variables including processing speed, task-switching, top-down attention, and implicit sequence learning.  The study additionally demonstrates a specific mediated effect of thalamocorticostriatal white matter tract integrity on age differences in probabilistic reward learning.  Since we did not observe age differences in tract integrity along the subcortical thalamostriatal pathways, behavioral and age effects were limited to tracts connected to the pre- frontal cortex.

White matter integrity is thought to facilitate information transfer through neurons. Since thalamocorticostriatal pathways play important roles in reward learning and decision making, the structural integrity of these pathways may facilitate functional throughput.  Although DTI cannot presently provide information about the direction or chemical specificity of neural projections, convergent inferences may be possible by incorporating existing knowledge about the anatomy and neurochemistry of these pathways.  Thalamocortical and corticostriatal projections through the medial prefrontal cortex typically use the neurotransmitter glutamate.  Projections from the prefrontal cortex to the striatum are thought to provide reentrant input that can flexibly guide motivated behavior toward specific goal objects.

Thus, it is possible that reduced structural input through the medial prefrontal cortex to the ventral striatum might impede the formation of new reward associations even while leaving general motivation processes relatively intact.

Sex/Money Have Different Brain Areas


This is very interesting.  Just look at the spatial relationship relative to the eyes and the brain stem.  Sex/mating stimuli processing is right behind where the come in the eyes and are real close to the brain stem where behavior is driven.  But money stimuli is processed “far” above and farther out “front” of the brain and well away from the brain stem.  In fact the money processing is about as far away from the brain stem as possible, and on the left side which is more analytic.

Wny would money be so far removed from the behavioral centers?  Distance in the brain means much longer processing time and much newer capabilities – in evolutionary time.  Fascinating.

Specific brain areas for sex, money

Specific brain areas for sex, money

This image illustrates the dissociation between primary and secondary rewards in the orbitofrontal cortex, a frontal region of the brain that is known to play a role in the evaluation of gratification.

  • The more primitive region (in the back, shown in yellow) represents the value of erotic images shown to the participants
  • while the most recent region (in the front, in blue) represents the value of monetary prizes won by the volunteers in the experiment.

… first evidence that the orbitofrontal cortex (located in the anterior ventral part of the brain) contains distinct regions that respond to secondary rewards like money as well as more primary gratifications like erotic images. ….

In our everyday lives, we often encounter various types of “rewards”….Moreover, we must often choose between them, or trade one for another.  To do this, we must be able to compare their relative value on a single consistent scale, which suggests that all types of rewards are assessed in the same .  At the same time it is possible that, due to their individual characteristics, different rewards may activate distinct cerebral regions. In particular, there could be a dissociation between so-called “primary” gratifications such as food or sex, which satisfy basic vital needs and have an innate value, and more “secondary” rewards such as money or power, which are not essential for survival and whose value is assessed by association with primary gratifications. Continue reading

Pre-Frontal Cortex Mapping


Figure 1

Although the human brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) has been studied for decades, theories about a valuation network and a cognitive control network—both hypothesized to reside in the PFC—have only recently emerged, and their precise distinction is still unclear.

Furthermore, cognitive control, once considered a unitary construct, is now thought to fractionate into distinct executive functions whose neural correlates remain elusive.

It is thus still an unanswered question how these processes map onto distinct or possibly overlapping sectors of the PFC.  Glaescher et al. applied several new statistical mapping approaches to a sample of 344 lesion patients that had received an array of neuropsychological tests of executive functions and value-based decision-making.

Background data regarding IQ, memory, and other cognitive functions within individual subjects were also analyzed. The authors described detailed maps of PFC regions that are essential for different executive functions.

  • One set involving the dorsolateral PFC and the anterior cingulate cortex is associated with a common performance factor related to flexibly switching between task and response sets, a hallmark of cognitive control.
  • Another set involving the orbitofrontal cortex, ventromedial PFC, and frontopolar cortexis involved in value-based decision-making.This study details the essential neuroanatomical substrates of some of the highest brain functions and provides insights about the extent to which they are distinct or overlap.