Boing Boing 

The real state of neuromarketing

Remember the hype about neuromarketing, the use of brain imaging and other technologies to directly measure consumer preference or the effect of advertisements on our unconscious? In The Guardian, Vaughan "Mind Hacks" Bell looks at the latest in neuromarketing and breaks it down into "advertising fluff, serious research, and applied neuroscience." From The Guardian:

First, it’s important to realise that the concept of neuroscience is used in different ways in marketing. Sometimes, it’s just an empty ploy aimed at consumers – the equivalent of putting a bikini-clad body next to your product for people who believe they’re above the bikini ploy. A recent Porsche advert (video above) apparently showed a neuroscience experiment suggesting that the brain reacts in a similar way to driving their car and flying a fighter jet, but it was all glitter and no gold. The images were computer-generated, the measurements impossible, and the scientist an actor.

In complete contrast, neuromarketing is also a serious research area. This is a scientifically sound, genuinely interesting field in cognitive science, where the response to products and consumer decision-making is understood on the level of body and mind. This might involve looking at how familiar brand logos engage the memory systems in the brain, or examining whether the direction of eye gaze of people in ads affects how attention-grabbing they are, or testing whether the brain’s electrical activity varies when watching subtly different ads. Like most of cognitive neuroscience, the studies are abstract, ultra-focused and a long way from everyday experience.

Finally, there is the murky but profitably grey area of applied neuromarketing, which is done by commercial companies for big-name clients. Here, the pop-culture hype that allows brain-based nonsense in consumer adverts meets the abstract and difficult-to-apply results from neuromarketing science. The result is an intoxicating but largely ineffective mix that makes sharp but non-specialist executives pay millions in the hope of maximising their return on branding and advertising.

"The marketing industry has started using neuroscience, but the results are more glitter than gold" (via Mind Hacks)

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Cross-sectioned brain sample drink coasters


Thinkgeek's Brain Specimen Coasters come in a set of ten, stacking to form a 3D brain. (via Geeky Merch)

Multitasking can make you pedal faster

A new study shows that people using a stationary bike to exercise pedal faster when they're also working on a mental task. The University of Florida researchers had actually expected that the multitasking would hinder both activities.

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Discovery of worm neuron that senses Earth's magnetic field

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Worms have a specific antenna-shaped neuron that senses the Earth's magnetic field, enabling the transparent nematode to know up from down when it's in the ground.

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Apex: final Nexus book merges the drug war with transhumanism

Ramez Naam's Nexus trilogy has concluded with a huge, thrilling, globe-spanning book called Apex that nailed it.Read the rest

How being 12 years old is like being a toddler again

New York Public Radio WNYC has launched a new series, Being 12: The Year Everything Changes. The website features broadcasts and videos around the thesis that age 12 is our most difficult age--the last year of childhood, when peoples' brains, bodies, circumstances, and relationship to language is changing at speeds as dramatic and tumultuous as when they were toddlers.

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Living at a high altitude may make people 30% more likely to commit suicide

Utah is the top state in the US for antidepressant use and has "disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country."

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XKCD versus neurobollocks

In his latest strip, fMRI, Randall "XKCD" Munroe nails the problems with brain imaging studies that claim to have found the neuroanatomical link between certain kinds of thoughts and regions of the brain (see 2013's Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience for more).

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Brain-computer interface gives lock-in sufferers a way to communicate

"Noninvasive brain-computer interface enables communication after brainstem stroke" (Science Translational Medicine) reports on the successful use of a brain-computer interface to allow an individual with "lock in syndrome" (conscious and aware, but unable to move any part of his body) to spell words and carry on dialogue with his family.

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Oxytocin: "the biological basis for the golden rule"

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Here's the transcript at Medium of a deeply fascinating Aspen Ideas lecture by neuroeconomist Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule, about the chemical reason why the vast majority of us feel good helping others. Those who don't? Psychopaths, mostly.

Short film: the Magic of Consciousness

Ed writes, "Here's an ambitious short film I made for the Royal Institution with evolutionary psychologist Nicholas Humphrey -- it explores the problems in understanding human consciousness particularly in explaining how its seemingly magical qualities arise from the physical matter of the brain."

Which is better: coffee or an electric shock to the head?

Kiki Sanford on a strange scientific study comparing the effects of caffeine to zapping your brain tissue with electricity.Read the rest

Pickpocketing as applied neuroscience


Sleights of the Mind, an excellent 2013 book, explored the neuroscience of magic and misdirection, with an absolutely riveting section on stage pickpocket Apollo Robbins and the practical, applied neuroscience on display in his breathtaking stunts (like taking your watch off your wrist without your noticing!).

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Afterparty: neuro-technothriller


Afterparty is a new, excellent science fiction novel by Daryl Gregory, about drugs, God, sanity, morals, and organized crime. Its protagonist, Lyda Rose is a disgraced neuroscientist who once helped develop a drug that rewired its users' brains so that they continuously hallucinated the presence of living, embodied Godhead. Now Lyda is in a mental institution, where she is attempting to win over the therapists who oversee her -- as well as the angelic doctor that manifests only in her mind.

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It may be possible to erase bad memories

A growing body of evidence, dating back to the late 1960s, suggests that we can lessen the emotional blow of negative memories (and even get rid of them altogether) months and years after those memories originally formed. The key is that memories seem to be vulnerable to manipulation and erasure as you're recalling them, not just at the time of creation. The newest research — and some of the most convincing to date — used electroconvulsive therapy to effectively remove the details of traumatizing stories from the minds of healthy volunteers. Virginia Hughes has a story about the newest study at her blog:

Schiller’s experiments have also bolstered the reconsolidation hypothesis. She has shown, for example, that if people recall a fearful memory and then go through ‘extinction learning’ — meaning that they’re shown the fearful stimulus over and over again without any pain — they can erase the emotional sting of the memory. Other groups have shown something similar by giving people propranolol, a beta-blocker, immediately after recalling a memory.

The new study adds ECT to the list. There are still a lot of questions. For example, it’s not clear how ECT is disrupting reconsolidation. Or if it’s doing it at all: The effect could be partly or wholly due to anesthesia, though the researchers say this is unlikely. Most importantly, no one knows whether the procedure would work with old, real memories, as opposed to those artificially created in the lab.

The history of lobotomy in the VA

A couple years ago, I read Jack El-Hai's brilliant book about lobotomy popularizer Walter Freeman — the man who lobotomized Rosemary Kennedy and traveled the country lobotomizing thousands of Americans with an ice pick. Now, at the Wall Street Journal, Michael Phillips has a big feature about Freeman and the influence he had on mental healthcare in the Veterans Administration. It's a chilling and important long read.