The Frontal Lobe Asymmetry Model and Consumer Behavior

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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

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Pre-Frontal Cortex Mapping

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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.