intellectual vanities… about close to everything

Posts Tagged ‘cognitive science

Neural Basis Of ‘Number Sense’ In Young Infants

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Behavioral experiments indicate that infants aged 4½ months or older possess an early “number sense” that allows them to detect changes in the number of objects.
Distinct cerebral pathways for object identity and number have been identified in the brain of human infants. (Credit: Izard V, Dehaene-Lambertz G, Dehaene S)

However, the neural basis of this ability was previously unknown.

In new research, Véronique Izard, Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, and Stanislas Dehaene provide brain imaging evidence showing that very young infants are sensitive to both the number and identity of objects, and these pieces of information are processed by distinct neural pathways.

The authors recorded the electrical activity evoked by the brain on the surface of the scalp as 3-months-old infants were watching images of objects. The number or identity of objects occasionally changed.

The authors found that the infant brain responds to both changes, but in different brain regions, which map onto the same regions that activate in adults. These results show that very young infants are sensitive to small changes in number, and the brain organization that underlies the perception of object number and identity are established early during development.

PLoS Biology Vol. 6, No. 2, e11 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060011

Distinct Cerebral Pathways for Object Identity and Number in Human Infants

Izard V, Dehaene-Lambertz G, Dehaene S 

All humans, regardless of their culture and education, possess an intuitive understanding of number. Behavioural evidence suggests that numerical competence may be present early on in infancy. Here, we present brain-imaging evidence for distinct cerebral coding of number and object identity in 3-mo-old infants. We compared the visual event-related potentials evoked by unforeseen changes either in the identity of objects forming a set, or in the cardinal of this set. In adults and 4-y-old children, number sense relies on a dorsal system of bilateral intraparietal areas, different from the ventral occipitotemporal system sensitive to object identity. Scalp voltage topographies and cortical source modelling revealed a similar distinction in 3-mo-olds, with changes in object identity activating ventral temporal areas, whereas changes in number involved an additional right parietoprefrontal network. These results underscore the developmental continuity of number sense by pointing to early functional biases in brain organization that may channel subsequent learning to restricted brain areas.

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Written by huehueteotl

February 11, 2008 at 9:39 am

Discrimination Against Blacks Linked To Dehumanization

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Crude historical depictions of African Americans as ape-like may have disappeared from mainstream U.S. culture, but research presented in a new paper by psychologists at Stanford, Pennsylvania State University and the University of California-Berkeley reveals that many Americans subconsciously associate blacks with apes.

Crude historical depictions of African Americans as ape-like may have disappeared from mainstream U.S. culture, but new research reveals that many Americans subconsciously associate blacks with apes. (Credit: Image courtesy of Stanford University)

In addition, the findings show that society is more likely to condone violence against black criminal suspects as a result of its broader inability to accept African Americans as fully human, according to the researchers.

Co-author Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford associate professor of psychology who is black, said she was shocked by the results, particularly since they involved subjects born after Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. “This was actually some of the most depressing work I have done,” she said. “This shook me up. You have suspicions when you do the work—intuitions—you have a hunch. But it was hard to prepare for how strong [the black-ape association] was—how we were able to pick it up every time.”

The research took place over six years at Stanford and Penn State under Eberhardt’s supervision. It involved mostly white male undergraduates. In a series of studies that subliminally flashed black or white male faces on a screen for a fraction of a second to “prime” the students, researchers found subjects could identify blurry ape drawings much faster after they were primed with black faces than with white faces.

The researchers consistently discovered a black-ape association even if the young adults said they knew nothing about its historical connotations. The connection was made only with African American faces; the paper’s third study failed to find an ape association with other non-white groups, such as Asians. Despite such race-specific findings, the researchers stressed that dehumanization and animal imagery have been used for centuries to justify violence against many oppressed groups.

“Despite widespread opposition to racism, bias remains with us,” Eberhardt said. “African Americans are still dehumanized; we’re still associated with apes in this country. That association can lead people to endorse the beating of black suspects by police officers, and I think it has lots of other consequences that we have yet to uncover.”

Historical background

Scientific racism in the United States was graphically promoted in a mid-19th-century book by Josiah C. Nott and George Robins Gliddon titled Types of Mankind, which used misleading illustrations to suggest that “Negroes” ranked between “Greeks” and chimpanzees. “When we have a history like that in this country, I don’t know how much of that goes away completely, especially to the extent that we are still dealing with severe racial inequality, which fuels and maintains those associations in ways that people are unaware,” Eberhardt said.

Although such grotesque characterizations of African Americans have largely disappeared from mainstream U.S. society, Eberhardt noted that science education could be partly responsible for reinforcing the view that blacks are less evolved than whites. An iconic 1970 illustration, “March of Progress,” published in the Time-Life book Early Man, depicts evolution beginning with a chimpanzee and ending with a white man. “It’s a legacy of our past that the endpoint of evolution is a white man,” Eberhardt said. “I don’t think it’s intentional, but when people learn about human evolution, they walk away with a notion that people of African descent are closer to apes than people of European descent. When people think of a civilized person, a white man comes to mind.”

Consequences of socially endorsed violence

In the paper’s fifth study, the researchers subliminally primed 115 white male undergraduates with words associated with either apes (such as “monkey,” “chimp,” “gorilla”) or big cats (such as “lion,” “tiger,” “panther”). The latter was used as a control because both images are associated with violence and Africa, Eberhardt said. The subjects then watched a two-minute video clip, similar to the television program COPS, depicting several police officers violently beating a man of undetermined race. A mugshot of either a white or a black man was shown at the beginning of the clip to indicate who was being beaten, with a description conveying that, although described by his family as “a loving husband and father,” the suspect had a serious criminal record and may have been high on drugs at the time of his arrest.

The students were then asked to rate how justified the beating was. Participants who believed the suspect was white were no more likely to condone the beating when they were primed with either ape or big cat words, Eberhardt said. But those who thought the suspect was black were more likely to justify the beating if they had been primed with ape words than with big cat words. “Taken together, this suggests that implicit knowledge of a Black-ape association led to marked differences in participants’ judgments of Black criminal suspects,” the researchers write.

According to the paper’s authors, this link has devastating consequences for African Americans because it “alters visual perception and attention, and it increases endorsement of violence against black suspects.” For example, the paper’s sixth study showed that in hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, African Americans convicted of capital crimes were about four times more likely than whites convicted of capital crimes to be described with ape-relevant language, such as “barbaric,” “beast,” “brute,” “savage” and “wild.” “Those who are implicitly portrayed as more ape-like in these articles are more likely to be executed by the state than those who are not,” the researchers write.

The way forward

Despite the paper’s findings, Eberhardt said she is optimistic about the future. “This work isn’t arguing that there hasn’t been any progress made or that we are living in the same society that existed in the 19th century,” she said. “We have made a lot of progress on race issues, but we should recognize that racial bias isn’t dead. We still need to be aware of that and aware of all the different ways [racism] can affect us, despite our intentions and motivations to be egalitarian. We still have work to do.”

For Eberhardt, two stories of race exist in America. “One is about the disappearance of bias—that it’s no longer with us,” she said. “But the other is about the transformation of bias. It’s not the egregious bias anymore, but it’s modern bias, subtle bias.” With both of these stories, she said, there is an understanding that society has moved beyond the historic battles centered around race. “We want to argue, with this work, that there is one old race battle that we’re still fighting,” she said. “That is the battle for blacks to be recognized as fully human.”

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Feb;94(2):292-306.
Not yet human: Implicit knowledge, historical dehumanization, and contemporary consequences.
Goff PA, Eberhardt JL, Williams MJ, Jackson MC.

Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University.

Historical representations explicitly depicting Blacks as apelike have largely disappeared in the United States, yet a mental association between Blacks and apes remains. Here, the authors demonstrate that U.S. citizens implicitly associate Blacks and apes. In a series of laboratory studies, the authors reveal how this association influences study participants’ basic cognitive processes and significantly alters their judgments in criminal justice contexts. Specifically, this Black-ape association alters visual perception and attention, and it increases endorsement of violence against Black suspects. In an archival study of actual criminal cases, the authors show that news articles written about Blacks who are convicted of capital crimes are more likely to contain ape-relevant language than news articles written about White convicts. Moreover, those who are implicitly portrayed as more apelike in these articles are more likely to be executed by the state than those who are not. The authors argue that examining the subtle persistence of specific historical representations such as these may not only enhance contemporary research on dehumanization, stereotyping, and implicit processes but also highlight common forms of discrimination that previously have gone unrecognized. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved).

Written by huehueteotl

February 9, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Even Momentary Sadness Increases Spending

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How you are feeling has an impact on your routine economic transactions, whether you’re aware of this effect or not. In a new study that links contemporary science with the classic philosophy of William James, a research team finds that people feeling sad and self-focused spend more money to acquire the same commodities than those in a neutral emotional state.

https://i1.wp.com/www.thewe.cc/thewei/&_/images7/venezuela/caracas_shopping_mall.jpe

The new study follows up on earlier research that established a connection between sadness and buying. Researchers Cynthia Cryder (Carnegie Mellon University), Jennifer Lerner (Harvard University), James J. Gross (Stanford University), and Ronald E. Dahl (University of Pittsburgh) have now discovered that heightened self-focus drives the connection — a finding that expands understanding of consumer behavior and, more broadly, the impact of emotions on decision-making.

In the experiment, participants viewed either a sad video clip or one devoid of human emotion. Afterward, participants could purchase an ordinary commodity, such as a water bottle, at various prices. Participants randomly assigned to the sad condition offered almost 300% more money to buy the product than “neutral” participants. Notably, participants in the sadness condition typically insist, incorrectly, that the emotional content of the film clip did not carry over to affect their spending.

Self-focus helps to explain the spending differences between the two groups. Among participants “primed” to feel sad, those who were highly self-focused paid more than those low in self-focus. Notably, sadness tends to increase self-focus, making the increased spending prompted by sadness difficult to avoid.

Why might a combination of sadness and self-focus lead people to spend more money? First, sadness and self-focus cause one to devalue both one’s sense of self and one’s current possessions. Second, this devaluation increases a person’s willingness to pay more for new material goods, presumably to enhance sense of self.

Notably, the “misery is not miserly” effect may be even more dramatic in real life, as the low-intensity sadness evoked in the experiment likely underestimates the power of intense sadness on spending behavior. The effect could extend to domains beyond purchasing decisions, causing people to engage in increased stock trading, for example, or even to seek new relationships– without conscious awareness that they are being driven by their emotions.

The study is an early step toward uncovering the hidden impact of different, fluctuating, and what would otherwise seem irrelevant emotions on our day-to-day decisions.

The article, that is available at several websites, will be published in the June 2008 edition of Psychological Science and will be presented at the Society for Social and Personality Psychology’s Annual Meeting on Feb. 9.:

Carnegie Mellon: http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~ccryder/miseryisnotmiserly.pdf

Lerner Lab: http://content.ksg.harvard.edu/lernerlab/papers.php

Cryder, C. E., Lerner, J. S., Gross, J. J., & Dahl, R. E. (in press).
Misery is not miserly: Sad and self-focused individuals spend more.
Psychological Science
Abstract
Misery is not miserly: sadness increases the amount of money decision makers give up to acquire a commodity (Lerner, Small, & Loewenstein, 2004). The present research investigated when and why the “misery-is-not-miserly” effect occurs. Drawing on William James’s (1890) concept of the material self, we tested a model specifying relationships among sadness, selffocus, and the amount of money decision makers spend. Consistent with our Jamesian hypothesis, results revealed that self-focus both moderates and mediates the effect of sadness on spending. Results were consistent across males and females. Because the study used real
commodities and real money, results hold implications for everyday decisions. They also hold implications for theoretical development. Economic theories of spending may benefit from incorporating psychological theories – specifically theories of emotion and the self.

Written by huehueteotl

February 9, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Drug-seeking Circuitry In Rat Brains Identified

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In experiments with rats, researchers have identified the change in brain circuitry that drives development of a compulsion to seek drugs, even when that compulsion is self-destructive. The researchers demonstrated the function of the circuitry by selectively switching off drug-seeking in the animals. They said their findings show the key role of the brain region, known as the striatum, which is a region activated by reward.

https://i0.wp.com/www.cocaine-addiction.ca/images/stockxpertcom_id107631_size1.jpg

The researchers drew on previous studies indicating that when drug-seeking transforms from a goal-directed behavior to a compulsion, control over that behavior shifts from the ventral to dorsal region of the striatum. In their experiments, the researchers first trained rats to press a lever to obtain cocaine, which also activated a signal light. The researchers manipulated the schedule of cocaine-receiving and lever-pressing so that it would induce compulsive lever-pressing in the rats to obtain cocaine.

The researchers found that when they used surgery and drugs to sever the functional connection between the two striatal regions, the result was decreased drug-seeking behavior in rats, compared with rats in which the disconnection was not made.

In a second set of experiments, the researchers showed that the “disconnected” rats did not show reduced ability to acquire such training responses. Both normal and disconnected rats could learn to pull a chain to receive a sugar-water reward so long as the activity was continuously reinforced.

The researchers concluded that “The results of the present study demonstrate that intrastriatal connectivity is a key aspect of the functional organization of the striatum and also a critically important component of the complex neural mechanisms involved in the development of drug addiction.”

Neuron. 2008 Feb 7;57(3):432-41.
Cocaine Seeking Habits Depend upon Dopamine-Dependent Serial Connectivity Linking the Ventral with the Dorsal Striatum.
Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EB, UK.

A neuroanatomical principle of striatal organization has been established through which ventral domains, including the nucleus accumbens, exert control over dorsal striatal processes mediated by so-called “spiraling,” striato-nigro-striatal, circuitry. We have investigated the functional significance of this circuitry in the control over a cocaine-seeking habit by using an intrastriatal disconnection procedure that combined a selective, unilateral lesion of the nucleus accumbens core and infusion of a dopamine receptor antagonist into the contralateral dorsolateral striatum, thereby disrupting striato-midbrain-striatal serial connectivity bilaterally. We show that this disconnection selectively decreased drug-seeking behavior in rats extensively trained under a second-order schedule of cocaine reinforcement. These data thereby define the importance of interactions between ventral and dorsal domains of the striatum, mediated by dopaminergic transmission, in the neural mechanisms underlying the development and performance of cocaine-seeking habits that are a key characteristic of drug addiction.

 see also

Subconscious Signals Can Trigger Drug Craving

 

Written by huehueteotl

February 8, 2008 at 4:20 pm

New Thoughts On Language Acquisition: Toddlers As Data Miners

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Indiana University researchers are studying a ground-breaking theory that young children are able to learn large groups of words rapidly by data-mining.

https://i1.wp.com/www.ascd.org/ASCD/images/publications/books/hill2006_fig2.3.gif

Their theory, which they have explored with 12- and 14-month-olds, takes a radically different approach to the accepted view that young children learn words one at a time — something they do remarkably well by the age of 2 but not so well before that.

Data mining, usually computer-assisted, involves analyzing and sorting through massive amounts of raw data to find relationships, correlations and ultimately useful information. It often is used and thought of in a business context or used by financial analysts, and more recently, a wide range of research fields, such as biology and chemistry. IU cognitive science experts Linda Smith and Chen Yu are investigating whether the human brain accumulates large amounts of data minute by minute, day by day, and handles this data processing automatically. They are studying whether this phenomenon contributes to a “system” approach to language learning that helps explain the ease by which 2- and 3-year-olds can learn one word at a time.

“This new discovery changes completely how we understand children’s word learning,” Smith said. “It’s very exciting.”

Smith, chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at IU Bloomington, and Yu, assistant professor in the department, recently received a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund this research for five years. Here are some recent findings:

*In one of their studies, published in the journal Cognition, Yu and Smith attempted to teach 28 12- to 14-month-olds six words by showing them two objects at a time on a computer monitor while two pre-recorded words were read to them. No information was given regarding which word went with which image. After viewing various combinations of words and images, however, the children were surprisingly successful at figuring out which word went with which picture.

*In the adult version of the study, which used the same eye-tracking technology used in the Cognition study, adults were taught 18 words in just six minutes. Instead of viewing two images at a time, they simultaneously were shown anywhere from three to four, while hearing the same number of words. The adults, like the children, learned significantly more than would be expected by chance. Many of the adult subjects indicated they were certain they had learned nothing and were “amazed” by their success. Yu and Smith wrote in the journal Psychological Science, “This suggests that cross-situational learning may go forward non-strategically and automatically, steadily building a reliable lexicon.”

Yu and Smith say it’s possible that the more words tots hear, and the more information available for any individual word, the better their brains can begin simultaneously ruling out and putting together word-object pairings, thus learning what’s what.

Yu, who has a doctorate in computer science and writes much of the software programming for their studies, said that if they can identify key factors involved in this form of learning and how it can be manipulated, they might be able to make learning languages easier, through training DVDs and other means, for children and adults. The learning mechanisms used by the children to learn words also could be used to further machine learning.

Cognition, Volume 106, Issue 3, March 2008, Pages 1558-1568

Infants rapidly learn word-referent mappings via cross-situational statistics

Linda Smith and Chen Yu

First word learning should be difficult because any pairing of a word and scene presents the learner with an infinite number of possible referents. Accordingly, theorists of children’s rapid word learning have sought constraints on word-referent mappings. These constraints are thought to work by enabling learners to resolve the ambiguity inherent in any labeled scene to determine the speaker’s intended referent at that moment. The present study shows that 12- and 14-month-old infants can resolve the uncertainty problem in another way, not by unambiguously deciding the referent in a single word-scene pairing, but by rapidly evaluating the statistical evidence across many individually ambiguous words and scenes.

Psychological Science May 2007 (Volume 18, Issue 5 Page 369-468)

Rapid Word Learning Under Uncertainty via Cross-Situational Statistics

Chen Yu and Linda B. Smith

There are an infinite number of possible word-to-word pairings in naturalistic learning environments. Previous proposals to solve this mapping problem have focused on linguistic, social, representational, and attentional constraints at a single moment. This article discusses a cross-situational learning strategy based on computing distributional statistics across words, across referents, and, most important, across the co-occurrences of words and referents at multiple moments. We briefly exposed adults to a set of trials that each contained multiple spoken words and multiple pictures of individual objects; no information about word-picture correspondences was given within a trial. Nonetheless, over trials, subjects learned the word-picture mappings through cross-trial statistical relations. Different learning conditions varied the degree of within-trial reference uncertainty, the number of trials, and the length of trials. Overall, the remarkable performance of learners in various learning conditions suggests that they calculate cross-trial statistics with sufficient fidelity and by doing so rapidly learn word-referent pairs even in highly ambiguous learning contexts.

Written by huehueteotl

February 5, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Circuitry Of Feedback Perception

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Researchers have found the brain region that controls the decision to halt your midnight exploration of the refrigerator and commence enjoyment of that leftover chicken leg. What’s more, they said, such mechanisms governing exploration are among those that malfunction in addiction and mental illness.
In their experiments, the researchers presented monkeys with a choice of touch targets on a computer screen, requiring the monkeys to spend time exploring which target would trigger a juice reward. Once the monkeys discovered the reward target, the researchers then gave the animals a period during which they could repeatedly touch the reward target to obtain more juice.

During the trials, the researchers recorded the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a brain region known to be active in adaptive behaviors such as the shift between exploring and exploiting.

In their analysis, the researchers measured the electrophysiological activity of cells during four different types of feedback–incorrect choices, first reward, repetition of the reward, and the ending of a trial by breaking fixation on the targets.

Analyzing the results, the researchers concluded that “Our data show that ACC discriminates between different types of feedback, allowing appropriate behavioral adaptations.”

Emmanuel Procyk and colleagues published their findings in the January 24, 2008, issue of the journal Neuron, published by Cell Press.

They wrote that “Thus, the function we attribute to ACC activations is clearly not only to evaluate feedbacks but is also to participate in monitoring the different steps of the task at hand to optimize action adaptation and valuation. A dysfunction of these mechanisms represents the core feature of cognitive alterations observed in addiction and mental illness.”

Wrote Procyk and colleagues, “The ACC produces signals that discriminate between various behaviorally relevant positive and negative feedbacks, suggesting a role in triggering appropriate adaptations. Our data reinforce the proposal that ACC is important for establishing action valuations. But they also emphasize a combined role in monitoring events/actions for behavioral regulation when task control is high, underlining the intimate link between control and action valuation.”

Neuron. 2008 Jan 24;57(2):314-25.
Behavioral shifts and action valuation in the anterior cingulate cortex.

Inserm, U846, Stem Cell and Brain Research Institute, 69500 Bron, France; Université de Lyon, Lyon 1, UMR-S 846, 69003 Lyon, France.

Rapid optimization of behavior requires decisions about when to explore and when to exploit discovered resources. The mechanisms that lead to fast adaptations and their interaction with action valuation are a central issue. We show here that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) encodes multiple feedbacks devoted to exploration and its immediate termination. In a task that alternates exploration and exploitation periods, the ACC monitored negative and positive outcomes relevant for different adaptations. In particular, it produced signals specific of the first reward, i.e., the end of exploration. Those signals disappeared in exploitation periods but immediately transferred to the initiation of trials-a transfer comparable to learning phenomena observed for dopaminergic neurons. Importantly, these were also observed for high gamma oscillations of local field potentials shown to correlate with brain imaging signal. Thus, mechanisms of action valuation and monitoring of events/actions are combined for rapid behavioral regulation

Written by huehueteotl

January 28, 2008 at 12:50 pm

Price Tag Can Change The Way People Experience Wine

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… a study shows for 11 californian male Caltech graduate students. Californians cannot tell price from taste, when it comes to whine. Certain californian wines do taste like that. And the old adage that you get what you pay for really seems then most true.

In what will be music to the ears of marketers, the old adage that you get what you pay for really is true when it comes to that most ephemeral of products: bottled wine.

If a person is told he or she is tasting two different wines–and that one costs $5 and the other $45 when they are, in fact, the same wine–the part of the brain that experiences pleasure will become more active when the drinker thinks he or she is enjoying the more expensive vintage. (Credit: iStockphoto/Joey Nelson)

According to researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology, if a person is told he or she is tasting two different wines—and that one costs $5 and the other $45 when they are, in fact, the same wine—the part of the brain that experiences pleasure will become more active when the drinker thinks he or she is enjoying the more expensive vintage.

“What we document is that price is not just about inferences of quality, but it can actually affect real quality,” said Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing who co-authored a paper titled “Marketing Actions Can Modulate Neural Representations of Experienced Pleasantness,” published online Jan. 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “So, in essence, [price] is changing people’s experiences with a product and, therefore, the outcomes from consuming this product.”

Shiv, an expert in how emotion affects decision-making, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to conduct the study with co-authors Hilke Plassmann, a former Stanford postdoctoral researcher; Antonio Rangel, a former Stanford economist; and psychologist John O’Doherty. (Both Plassmann and Rangel are now at Caltech.) Although researchers have used fMRI scans in recent years to gauge brain activity, the study is one of the first to test subjects as they swallow liquid—in this case, wine—through a pump attached to their mouths, a tricky complication because the scanner requires people to lie very still as it measures blood flow in the brain.

According to Shiv, a basic assumption in economics is that a person’s “experienced pleasantness” (EP) from consuming a product depends only on its intrinsic properties and the individual’s thirst. However, marketers try to influence this experience by changing a drink’s external properties, such as its price. “This type of influence is valuable for companies, because EP serves as a learning signal that is used by the brain to guide future choices,” the paper says. Contrary to this basic assumption, several studies have shown that marketing can influence how people value goods. For example, Shiv has shown that people who paid a higher price for an energy drink, such as Red Bull, were able to solve more brain teasers than those who paid a discounted price for the same product.

Despite the pervasive influence of marketing, very little is known about how neural mechanisms affect decision-making, the researchers said. “Here, we propose a mechanism though which marketing actions can affect decision-making,” they write. “We hypothesized that changes in the price of a product can influence neural computations associated with EP.” Because perceptions about quality are positively correlated with price, the scholars argued that someone might expect an expensive wine to taste better than a cheaper one. Their hypothesis went further, stipulating that a person’s anticipated experience would prompt higher activity in the part of the brain that experiences pleasure, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, or mOFC, in the forehead.

Shiv, a native of India, said he decided to study wine because so many people, especially in the Golden State, are crazy about it. “I’m just fascinated with wine,” he said. “It has always amused me how much time and effort people put into this hobby. I couldn’t understand it until I moved to California and started appreciating the whole thing. But, in the back of my mind, the price variation in wines has always puzzled me. You can go from spending $4 to $200 to $300 and up a bottle. Why are people going for that? Some are trying to show off, but most people are not. They are very serious about it, and they think that the more expensive it is, the better it is. That has always befuddled me. Is it really that people are getting more pleasure from it? Or do they just think so?”

The study

The researchers recruited 11 male Caltech graduate students who said they liked and occasionally drank red wine. The subjects were told that they would be trying five different Cabernet Sauvignons, identified by price, to study the effect of sampling time on flavor. In fact, only three wines were used—two were given twice. The first wine was identified by its real bottle price of $5 and by a fake $45 price tag. The second wine was marked with its actual $90 price and by a fictitious $10 tag. The third wine, which was used to distract the participants, was marked with its correct $35 price. A tasteless water was also given in between wine samples to rinse the subjects’ mouths. The wines were given in random order, and the students were asked to focus on flavor and how much they enjoyed each sample.

Results

The participants said they could taste five different wines, even though there were only three, and added that the wines identified as more expensive tasted better. The researchers found that an increase in the perceived price of a wine did lead to increased activity in the mOFC because of an associated increase in taste expectation. Shiv said he expects enophiles will challenge the results, since his subjects were not professional connoisseurs. “Will these findings replicate among experts?” he asked. “We don’t know, but my speculation is that, yes, they will. I expect that the enophiles will show more of these effects, because they really care about it.”

According to Shiv, the emotional and hedonic areas of the brain could be fundamental to making good decisions because they serve as a navigational device. “The brain is super-efficient,” he said. “There seems to be this perfect overlap in one part of the brain between what happens in real time and what happens when people anticipate something. It’s almost acting as a GPS system. This seems to be the navigational device that helps us learn what is the right thing to do the next time around.”

Published online before print January 14, 2008, 10.1073/pnas.0706929105
PNAS | January 22, 2008 | vol. 105 | no. 3 | 1050-1054
Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness
Hilke Plassmann*, John O’Doherty*, Baba Shiv and Antonio Rangel*

*Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, MC 228-77, Pasadena, CA 91125; and Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, 518 Memorial Way, Littlefield L383, Stanford, CA94305

Edited by Leslie G. Ungerleider, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, and approved December 3, 2007 (received for review July 24, 2007)

Despite the importance and pervasiveness of marketing, almost nothing is known about the neural mechanisms through which it affects decisions made by individuals. We propose that marketing actions, such as changes in the price of a product, can affect neural representations of experienced pleasantness. We tested this hypothesis by scanning human subjects using functional MRI while they tasted wines that, contrary to reality, they believed to be different and sold at different prices. Our results show that increasing the price of a wine increases subjective reports of flavor pleasantness as well as blood-oxygen-level-dependent activity in medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area that is widely thought to encode for experienced pleasantness during experiential tasks. The paper provides evidence for the ability of marketing actions to modulate neural correlates of experienced pleasantness and for the mechanisms through which the effect operates.

Written by huehueteotl

January 26, 2008 at 6:01 pm