From “Where” to “What”: Distributed Representations of Brand Associations in the Human Brain
Yuping Chen, Leif Nelson, and Ming Hsu
Considerable attention has been given to the notion that there exists a set of human-like characteristics associated with brands, referred to as brand personality. Here we combine newly available machine learning techniques with functional neuroimaging data to characterize the set of processes that give rise to these associations. We show that brand personality traits can be captured by the weighted activity across a widely distributed set of brain regions previously implicated in reasoning, imagery, and affective processing. That is, as opposed to being constructed via reflective processes, brand personality traits appear to exist a priori inside the minds of consumers, such that we were able to predict what brand a person is thinking about based solely on the relationship between brand personality associations and brain activity. These findings represent an important advance in the application of neuroscientific methods to consumer research, moving from work focused on cataloguing brain regions associated with marketing stimuli to testing and refining mental constructs central to theories of consumer behavior.
Egalitarian Behavior in Humans
Ignacio Saez, Lusha Zhu, Eric Set, Andrew Kayser, and Ming Hsu
Egalitarian motives form a powerful force in promoting prosocial behavior and enabling large-scale cooperation in the human species. At the neural level, there is substantial, albeit correlational, evidence suggesting a link between dopamine and such behavior. However, important questions remain about the specific role of dopamine in setting or modulating behavioral sensitivity to prosocial concerns. Here, using a combination of pharmacological tools and economic games, we provide critical evidence for a causal involvement of dopamine in human egalitarian tendencies. Specifically, using the brain penetrant catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) inhibitor tolcapone, we investigated the causal relationship between dopaminergic mechanisms and two prosocial concerns at the core of a number of widely used economic games: (1) the extent to which individuals directly value the material payoffs of others, i.e., generosity, and (2) the extent to which they are averse to differences between their own payoffs and those of others, i.e., inequity. We found that dopaminergic augmentation via COMT inhibition increased egalitarian tendencies in participants who played an extended version of the dictator game. Strikingly, computational modeling of choice behavior revealed that tolcapone exerted selective effects on inequity aversion, and not on other computational components such as the extent to which individuals directly value the material payoffs of others. Together, these data shed light on the causal relationship between neurochemical systems and human prosocial behavior and have potential implications for our understanding of the complex array of social impairments accompanying neuropsychiatric disorders involving dopaminergic dysregulation.
Damage to dorsolateral prefrontal cortex affects tradeoffs between honesty and self-interest
Lusha Zhu, Adrianna C Jenkins, Eric Set, Donatella Scabini, Robert T Knight, Pearl H Chiu, Brooks King-Casas, and Ming Hsu
Substantial correlational evidence suggests that prefrontal regions are critical to honest and dishonest behavior, but causal evidence specifying the nature of this involvement remains absent. We found that lesions of the human dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) decreased the effect of honesty concerns on behavior in economic games that pit honesty motives against self-interest, but did not affect decisions when honesty concerns were absent. These results point to a causal role for DLPFC in honest behavior.
Congratulations Eric! [PNAS Link]
Set and colleagues present an impressive study combining sophisticated modeling of strategic behavior and a sophisticated genetic modeling approach.
Dissociable contribution of prefrontal and striatal dopaminergic genes to learning in economic games
Eric Set, Ignacio Saez, Lusha Zhu, Daniel E. Houser, Noah Myung, Songfa Zhong, Richard P. Ebsteing, Soo Hong Chew, and Ming Hsu
Game theory describes strategic interactions where success of players’ actions depends on those of coplayers. In humans, substantial progress has been made at the neural level in characteriz ing the dopaminergic and frontostriatal mechanisms mediating such behavior. Here we combined computational modeling of strategic learning with a pathway approach to characterize association of strategic behavior with variations in the dopamine pathway. Specifically, using gene-set analysis, we systematically examined contribution of different dopamine genes to variation in a multistrategy competitive game captured by (i) the degree players anticipate and respond to actions of others (belief learning) and (ii) the speed with which such adaptations take place (learning rate). We found that variation in genes that primarily regulate prefrontal dopamine clearance—catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) and two isoforms of monoamine oxidase—modulated degree of belief learning across individuals. In contrast, we did not find significant association for other genes in the dopamine pathway. Furthermore, variation in genes that primarily regulate striatal dopamine function—dopamine transporter and D2 receptors—was significantly associated with the learning rate. We found that this was also the case with COMT, but not for other dopaminergic genes. Together, these findings highlight dissociable roles of frontostriatal systems in strategic learning and support the notion that genetic variation, organized along specific pathways, forms an important source of variation in complex phenotypes such as strategic behavior.
Project Summary: The current proposal aims to study neural mechanisms of social learning in healthy adults as a precursor to understanding the impact of mental illnesses on social functioning. Changes in social behavior are often the first symptoms of a striking array of neuropsychiatric disorders. However, whereas disruptions in memory, motor, or emotional functioning are readily recognized as symptoms of more serious underlying conditions, decision-making deficits are often overlooked, particularly in the social domain. Furthermore, there exist few behavioral measures or biomarkers to quantify such deficits, due in part to our limited knowledge of the underlying neural mechanisms and their relation to mental disorders.
We do so via a tight integration of computational modeling of goal-directed social behavior, and testing the predictions generated using complementary experimental techniques with both fMRI and focal lesion patients. In particular, we focus on the role of dopamine and interactions between the basal ganglia and frontal cortices, which are together critical for goal-directed behavior and known to be affected in a variety of disorders. First, we will use the model, calibrated on observed behavior, to derive trial-by-trial regressors for use in functional neuroimaging experiments. Second, the estimated parameters of the model themselves can be used to compare across health and diseased groups, or find subtypes of the diseased groups. Finally, the neural correlates and the behavioral estimates can be combined in order to find novel brain-behavior markers of diseases. In this way, we seek to provide a unifying account of goal-directed behavior in both social and non-social settings, which has the potential to lead to development of new ways of classifying mental disorders based on dimensions of observable behavior and neurobiological measures.
Zhu, Lusha, Daniel Walsh, and Ming Hsu. Neuroeconomic Measures of Social Decision-Making Across the Lifespan. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 6:128. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00128.
I don’t know what happened to the study, perhaps it fell into the proprietary information stack that never sees the light of day. But to me it represents a side of consumer neuroscience that has thus far been under-explored—namely the neural processes through which metaphors and mental imagery influence behavior. We now know quite a bit about the basic decision making processes at the brain level, but it doesn’t begin to describe the way that narratives and behavior affect our behavior. Getting a handle on this would be a huge advance scientifically.
In a study now under way at Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital, Stephen M. Kosslyn and I are using PET scans to assess the impact of three alternative marketing stimuli (relating to automobile dealerships) developed by Lewis Carbone of Experience Engineering for a division of General Motors. The constructs involved in these stimuli (about which study participants also complete a written questionnaire) include anxiety, trust, and comfort.
This is just one anecdote, but the underlying idea—that food is like a drug, and obesity like addiction—is become quite well accepted. The analogy does have a few problems, delineated very nicely in a recent Nature Reviews Neuroscience opinion piece. My main takeaway is that it’s no so much as the analogy that fails, but rather the facile comparison of symptoms. For example, the tolerance and withdrawal symptoms in drug abuse have no direct equivalent in food. Still, the cognitive mechanisms, such as impulsivity and self control, likely underlie both.
Unfortunately for me, I was pretty weak from fighting all those earlier urges and had no defense against the most dastardly diet killing villain ever. Girl Scouts and their cookies! “Sir,” this cute, very innocent, albeit completely evil little girl asked, “would you like to buy some girl scout cookies? They are for a good cause.”
I just stared blankly at her for what must have been 3 minutes, begging God to smite this little demon down with a bolt of lightning.Before that could happen though, her mom noticed me just staring at her and thought I was a creeper or something because she came running over to investigate.
“Sir,” the little girl said again with her mom now standing next to her protectively, “well, would you like some cookies?”
By that point, since no lightening had come down and my will power was spent from the drive prior, I started shaking violently. Finally I screaming, “Ok! I give up,” and knocked both the little girl and her mother over as I ran to the table loaded down with boxes and boxes of multicolored Girl Scout cookies, like I was chasing gold at the end of a rainbow.
Unfortunately there was no clear sourcing in Pendergast, and I wasn’t able to find anything like this in Münsterberg’s published works. However, I did find a quote to the effect of above in a 1913 judgment of Continental Securities co. v. Belmont (!!!) in the Miscellaneous Reports: Cases Decided in the Courts of Record of the State of New York (hooray for Google books).
Business men will eventually realize that customers are merely bundles of mental states and that the mind is a mechanism that we can affect with the same exactitude with which we control a machine in a factor.
It was baffling to me why the judge handling the case included this example. As far as I can tell it’s some obscure law about securities contracts, but more to the point the judge of this opinion did not give a citation. Still, clearly some psychologist back in the early 1900s wrote/said something to this effect, and Münsterberg wouldn’t be a bad guess.
Law may be an exact science in the conception of the psychologist, who now claims that even banking and business are exact sciences, which can control them as well as any other field of social life, and by the introduction of psychology therein men will eventually realize that individuals with whom they deal are merely bundles of mental states, and that the mind is a mechanism that we (psychologists?) can affect with the same exactitude with which we control a machine in a factory.
Speaking of Münsterberg, even though his speculations about something like neuromarketing went nowhere, he pioneered IO and forensic psychology, without which business and law schools would probably look very different today. I hope it won’t take another hundred years to understand the brain processes of marketing and business in general.