Home/Change, Communication/Looking to the brain to shape persuasive messages

Looking to the brain to shape persuasive messages

In a recent study on persuasion, UCLA neuroscientists have shown they can use brain scanning to predict whether people will use sunscreen during a one-week period following public service announcements even better than the people themselves can. ScienceDaily reports:

The participants had their brains scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center as they saw and heard a series of public service announcements. They were also asked about their intentions to use sunscreen over the next week and their attitudes about sunscreen.

The participants were then contacted a week later and asked on how many days during the week they had used sunscreen.

Scientists discovered that increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with self-awareness and reflection about preferences, values and desires, correctly predicted that people were more likely to increase their use of sunscreen the following week, even beyond the people’s own expectations.

There is plenty to be learned about what makes messages persuasive to the brain.  Here are a few highlights:

First, the study confirms that people are bad at predicting what they will do.  Keep this in mind next time somebody fails to meet your expectations.

Second, the neuroscience of persuasion may allow us to learn more about how people form and change perceptions.  Influence and perception are two sides of the same coin.  Influence is about projecting messages out.  Perception is about taking them in.  The word “perception” comes from the Latin words perceptio, percipio, and means “receiving, collecting, action of taking possession, apprehension with the mind or senses.”  Messages often change as they travel from the source to the recipient. The context, environment and our own unique brain maps play a role in creating the perceptions we ultimately end up with.  Will we be able to identify perceptions in the brain?  What role reasoning, emotions, and relevancy play in attitude and behavior change?

In the future, we are likely to see more practical applications of the research.  In neuromarketing, for example, “neural focus groups” may help advertisers test which messages will be effective while monitoring the brain activity of their subjects.  Neuroscientists are also exploring the issue of “creating buzz” – what brain regions are involved in persuading people to tell or e-mail their friends about a health message, product or service.

Finally, while this study focused on hearing and viewing public service announcement, other neuroscience studies provide evidence that doing, experiencing, and even imagining (mental rehearsal) may change behavior and the brain itself as a result of neuroplasticity.  When done consistently, activities, such as meditation, playing a musical instrument, or juggling, lead to structural changes in the brain.  Sometimes, the best way to facilitate change is to create experiences and engage.

By | 2010-06-28T20:41:33+00:00 June 28th, 2010|Change, Communication|0 Comments

Leave A Comment