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The way a brain functions has been a source of human curiosity throughout time. Over the past few decades, researchers have used a number of neuroscience methods including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as a means to achieve a more-thorough understanding of how a human brain works.

The Center for Neural Decision Making (CNDM) at Temple University’s Fox School of Business has been at the forefront of this area, with research focused on integrating information from different methodologies to better understand human decision making.

Prior to the Academy of Management annual meeting, held in Philadelphia, the CNDM co-hosted a workshop with the Technology and Innovation Management group at MTEC, ETH Zurich on July 31 at Temple University. The workshop, titled, “Defining a Role for Neuroscience in Strategic Management,” provided a forum for leading researchers in the field of management to explore the use of methods in cognitive neuroscience in their research., by including both practical demonstration of some methods and presentations about designing and analyzing fMRI studies.

“There’s a lot of potential to improve our fMRI training methods and expand on our current practices. I want to help improve our teaching methodology and explain why it is that we use fMRI,” said Dr. Daniella Laureiro-Martinez, of ETH Zurich. Laureiro-Martinez made the conference’s first presentation, which included discussions about how to design an fMRI study and work within the limitations of the scanning environment.

“People often underestimate the nuances of designing an fMRI experiment,” said Dr. Vinod Venkatraman, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Fox School of Business and Associate Director of the CNDM. “When dealing with neurophysiological signals, it becomes increasingly difficult to block out the noise and focus on the desired signals. A good experimental design is one that eliminates most prejudices unrelated to the task of primary interest. Because conducting an experiment using fMRI technology is expensive and timely, having a good experiment design could prevent wasting time or money on ineffective studies.”

Despite the fact that fMRI technology has come a long way since its first use in the 1990s, there are improvements that can be made. Crucially, discussions in the conference focused on how these developments can be used to inform research in other areas like strategic management. Discussions also centered on ethical considerations and consequences of neuroscience experiments for managers.

The CNDM team and the Fox School of Business aim to be at the forefront of the area of applied neuroscience, extending findings from basic neuroscience to more applied areas in Business. They are continuing to find new ways to improve how to make study results more palatable and how more can be learned about the human brain and consumer behavior. The ultimate goal is to expand their work in the industry, helping companies understand how and why you would do a study on the human brain.

“Hopefully our future holds more fruitful collaborations with corporations and industry partners, taking our academic knowledge and studies and applying it to their practical use,” said Khoi Vo, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Neural Decision Making. “We hope to provide them with the necessary data, as well as the education and tools to understand and apply it to real-world decisions.”

 

The 4th Annual Interdisciplinary Symposium on Decision Neuroscience (ISDN) was held at Stanford University in California June 6-7, marking the conference’s first West Coast appearance.  Temple University and the Fox School of Business, home to the first three ISDN conferences, was once again the key sponsor for the event.

The conference organizing committee included Drs. Angelika Dimoka and Vinod Venkatraman from Temple University, Dr. Uma Karmarkar from Harvard University, Dr. Baba Shiv from Stanford University, and Dr. Carolyn Yoon from University of Michigan.

A conference specifically catered to researchers and academics interested in decision neuroscience had not existed prior to 2009. That’s when Dr. Dimoka worked with contacts from similar research backgrounds to host the first Interdisciplinary Symposium on Decision Neuroscience.

With a well-attended and successful inaugural conference, organizers decided to host the event annually.  Attendees of the ISDN conference included practitioners, researchers and academics across the neuroscience spectrum. The conference offered an opportunity to discuss study results and the best practices in their research work, as well as how to apply their results to clients and practitioners.

The ISDN is unique and aimed at a niche audience. The conference differs from a typical academic conference, at which faculty members simply present their research and receive feedback from other members.

“We invite practitioners to attend, because they are the people who translate the academic findings into solutions for real-world problems and business clients,” said Dr. Venkatraman, assistant professor of Marketing at the Fox School of Business, and co-organizer of the ISDN conferences. “We want practitioners and academic researchers to interact and network at the event, opening up opportunities for fruitful collaborations.  The ISDN symposium is also a perfect opportunity for researchers and students interested in the decision neuroscience field to present their recent research findings and receive valuable feedback, as well as to network and form new research partnerships.”

Khoi Vo, a senior research associate at the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University, networked with practitioners during the ISDN conference, and discussed potential collaborative research work. Vo presented a paper during the conference on a research project that involved measuring the success of Super Bowl advertisements based on the activity of a consumer’s brain, using results found through fMRI studies.

“Part of my effort at the Center is to foster collaborative efforts with practitioners who are also interested in studying consumer decision making,” Vo said. “From our collaborations with industry, we have generated rich data sets that can provide valuable insights in this field. Though, it will be a challenge to integrate sensitive trade knowledge from industry with our data sets in peer-reviewed publications. Currently, we are in discussions to write up the results for the Super Bowl study.”

Vo also discussed the unique atmosphere of the conference.

“It was fascinating to see the potential research opportunities between academics and practitioners with respect to the research presented at the Symposium,” he said. “For the Super Bowl study that I co-presented with our industry collaborator, we received useful feedback from both academics and practitioners alike. More importantly, both groups were intrigued by our results and impressed that we did not make overstatements with these results. Overall, hearing positive feedback from leading academics and practitioners about our research was a great validation of not only our capabilities and efforts, but also of future collaborations.”

SangSuk Yoon, a Fox School of Business PhD student who works as a research assistant in the Center for Neural Decision Making, has attended the ISDN conference the past two years. Yoon presented a study he had completed with Dr. Venkatraman and Vo, in which they investigated the influences of aging on risky choices and its impact on decision-making.

“We received feedback from researchers in a variety of fields such as psychology, economics, business, and so on, which we’re taking into consideration to continue to develop our study further,” Yoon said.

Yoon, who recently attended an annual psychology conference of a larger scale, said the intimate size of the ISDN allowed for greater discussion.

“The psychology conference is relatively large, and although it allowed me to see studies from diverse fields, I barely had a chance to talk to any of the presenters,” he said. “At the ISDN conference I was able to discuss and share ideas with world-renowned presenters throughout the two days.”

–         Diana David

The Time Warner Medialab, Innerscope Research and Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making (CNDM) at the Fox School of Business have announced the results of a comprehensive study of this year’s Super Bowl ads that reinforced the power of emotion and compelling storytelling.

The research teams used a combination of biometric and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technologies to monitor viewers’ skin conductance, heart rates, respiration, motion and brain activation to get a more thorough understanding of how consumers reacted to different ads. The findings showed that brands that took audiences on an emotional journey – including Cheerios, Chevrolet, Budweiser and Hyundai – delivered the highest moments of engagement.

“It’s exciting to have the research capabilities to literally go inside the brain of the consumer to find out what’s driving engagement,” said Kristen O’Hara, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Time Warner Global Media Group. “These findings deepen our understanding of consumer behavior, and we will continue to push the boundaries of ad research to ensure that we’re delivering the most effective content to our consumers and our business partners.”

This year’s top-performing ads took viewers on journeys featuring relatable characters in stories that slowly developed. General Mills’ Cheerios told an intimate story of a growing family featuring a daughter who bargains with her father for a new puppy; Hyundai’s “Sixth Sense” commercial took viewers through the relationship between a father and son; Budweiser told a heartwarming story of determination through a puppy trying to meet up with a Clydesdale horse; and Toyota’s “Joyride” ad brought viewers along for a fun ride with the Muppets. The fMRI results validated the initial biometric study’s findings of increased engagement among the top 10 performers, which were announced last week.

“Traditional measures capture aspects of cognition, but advertisers need to know more than what people consciously think about ads,” Innerscope Research Co-founder and Chief Science Officer Dr. Carl Marci said. “In order to go deeper into areas of the brain, you need tools like fMRI that can help you understand the mechanisms that allow ads to break through the clutter.”

The biometrics study was conducted live during the Super Bowl while Innerscope monitored 80 participants to capture fluctuations in heart rate, skin conductance, and breathing patterns at the company’s Media Lab and facilities in Boston and the Time Warner Medialab in New York.

“The biggest challenge here was to conduct a study of academic rigor within an industry timeframe,” said Khoi Vo, senior research associate at CNDM and lead researcher on the fMRI study.

Ads that performed well on biometrics also elicited increased brain activity, relative to ads that performed poorly, in key areas of interest for marketers. These included brain regions associated with emotional relevance (amygdala), memory formation (hippocampus) and executive function (lateral prefrontal cortex).

Among top-performers, ads like those from Cheerios and Volkswagen elicit emotional responses as well as activating two additional regions of the brain commonly associated with valuation and reward – the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum. These areas are consistent with prior work conducted by Temple CNDM in the area of advertising effectiveness research.

“It is exciting to see some consistency across studies, as well as convergence across methodologies – in this case biometrics and fMRI,” said Dr. Angelika Dimoka, director of CNDM. “The Center has been at the forefront of advancing research in consumer neuroscience through its emphasis on strong theoretical frameworks, multi-methodological approaches and convergent validity. Though consumer neuroscience has been criticized in the past for lacking in these aspects, this study moves the needle on all fronts and represents a significant advancement in the field.”

 

Researchers at Temple University’s Fox School of Business are conducting a comprehensive study to assess to what extent neurophysiological responses and other measures of reactions to advertisements can predict the sales performance of TV ads.

Temple’s Center for Neural Decision Making, based at the Fox School, earned a grant from the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) to evaluate approximately 300 participants’ responses to 35 TV ads from a group of ARF member firms, including major companies in the technology, financial, pharmaceutical and consumer-goods industries. The ARF, founded in 1936, is the premier foundation in the advertising industry for creating and sharing knowledge.

The researchers will employ traditional survey responses and six neurophysiological methods: eye tracking; skin conductance response, which measures arousal; heart rate; breathing; and brain activity as recorded through fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and EEG (electroencephalographs). The research team will then compare its results with an analysis of sales data led by Russell Winer of New York University’s Stern School of Business to see which of the measures did the best job of predicting market performance.

“It’s a great opportunity to compare all these methodologies with each other, which has never been done before,” said Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making and an associate professor of marketing and management information systems (MIS). “We’ll also be able to identify specific points in the 30-second commercials that can help us further understand what drives sales.” Dimoka is leading the study with MIS Professor Paul A. Pavlou and Vinod Venkatraman, an assistant professor of marketing and supply chain management and associate director of the Center for Neural Decision Making.

Jim Thompson, a Fox alumnus and executive-in-residence at the center, facilitated the relationship with the ARF by inviting members of the foundation and other practitioners to participate in the second annual Interdisciplinary Symposium of Decision Neuroscience, held in 2011 at Temple.

“This was a unique conference in that both academics and commercial practitioners attended and participated,” said Thompson, former global president and CEO of Ipsos ASI, a leading advertising research company. “It was the credibility of that conference that facilitated this collaboration, and it clearly established the Center for Neural Decision Making as the leader in bridging scholarly academic research with industry practice.

ARF members that are supporting the project will be able to glean insight from the comprehensiveness of the study, which would likely be cost prohibitive for just one firm to conduct, while also benefitting from the scholarly rigor of it. An advisory board constituted of top academic and industry experts is overseeing each method the center uses, to ensure protocols are designed, executed and analyzed correctly.

“This is a differentiating point for Temple and the Fox School,” Thompson said of the project and the Center for Neural Decision Making. “If companies are doing anything at all with neuroscience or biometrics, Temple could be the first school they think of as a result of this study.” –Brandon Lausch

 

Making decisions is a central human activity that is fundamental to the life of individuals, organizations and society. What car you choose to purchase, what person you choose to marry, what politician you vote for, where you chose to invest—all of these are important decisions that affect your life. There are hundreds of books on the market offering advice on decision-making strategies. However, the more fundamental (and ultimately more essential) question is: what is your brain actually doing when you make a decision? And what more can we learn about decision-making by looking under the hood and into the brain? Answers to these questions have far-reaching implications for all aspects of our society.

A core goal for marketers is effective segmentation: partitioning a brand’s or product’s consumer base into distinct and meaningful groups with differing needs. Traditional segmentation data include factors like geographic location, demographics, and shopping history. Yet, research into the cognitive and affective processes underlying consumption decisions shows that these variables can improve the matching of consumers with products beyond traditional demographic and benefit approaches. While many discussions involving marketing and neuroscience attempt to justify a general use of neural data for marketers, we prefer to provide market segmentation as a prime example of how neuroscience can aid marketing and consumer research. Neuroscience can provide a novel way to establish mappings between cognitive processes and traditional marketing data. An improved understanding of the neural mechanisms of decision making will enhance the ability of marketers to effectively market their products. Just as neuroscience can model potential influences on the decision process—including pricing, choice strategy, context, experience, and memory—it can also provide new insights into individual differences in consumption behavior and brand preferences. Neuroscience approaches will not replace the data and methods in current marketing practice, but can provide complementary information about choice processes and types of consumers. Doing so may lead to better approaches for market segmentation and more effective marketing practices.