Your brain predicts the market!

Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy
BrainEthics
Published in
4 min readAug 11, 2022

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A completely new part of neuroscience is emerging. One that shows the possibility of predicting massive market responses by testing brain responses in a small group. The secret to mass behavior lies hidden in our own enchanted looms.

More than a decade ago, famed neuroscientist Greg Berns was watching the Super Bowl. The game was perhaps so-so, but this year something else caught Berns’ attention.

During the halftime break, he recognized some of the music being played. But this was not just some ordinary music recognition: he had tested brain responses to the music when it was completely unknown.

Now, as the music was played to millions of viewers, Berns made a realization. Could he use the same data to predict which music piece would go viral?

In the original study, Berns and colleagues tested teens’ brain responses to novel music. But now, he realized that he could use the very same data set to test whether he could predict the success of each piece of music.

Indeed, this is exactly what he found!

When looking at the data, Berns focused on the relative success of each song and identified brain regions that were associated with the relative success of each song. Brain regions such as the basal ganglia, medial prefrontal cortex, and posterior cingulate cortex showed increased activity when songs would later become hits.

Brain activity and music hits in the study by Berns and colleagues, showing which brain regions that were associated with predicted music success (top), and the linear relationship between those regions (here, Nucleus accumbens) and music success (bottom).

Subconscious responses are better predictors of market responses

The study by Berns and colleagues provided a whole new type of research in cognitive neuroscience: the study of brain responses in a smaller sample to predict trends in a larger audience, and even cultural market responses.

What was to come was a series of studies that challenge how we should think about commonalities in human brain responses, and how this predicts responses way beyond the individual.

Indeed, there is now a whole new trend in applied neuroscience that suggests that brain responses in smaller samples correlate highly with cultural and market responses. Emerging studies in cognitive neuroscience suggest that brain responses tap into more common human response patterns, and as such can predict behaviors outside the lab (Knutson & Genevsky, 2018).

For example, in a study by Dmochowski et al. (2014) it was found that coherent brain responses in a small group watching TV content and ad breaks predicted large-scale market responses such as Twitter behaviors and market research KPIs such as Nielsen ratings.

The study by Dmochowski et al. shows the relationship between the actual viewership (a), the predicted viewership (b), and their statistical relationship (c).

In a more recent study, Boksem and Smidts (2014, see figure below) found dissociable brain responses such as frontal beta and gamma engagement during motive trailers separately predicted individual preference and market response, respectively. More specifically, a lower frontal beta was associated with higher individual preference, while higher frontal gamma was associated with higher box office sales.

Brain responses to movie trailers predict box office sales of movies. While certain types of frequencies show higher sensitivity to trailers (left), the gamma power to 56 movies was significantly positively related to box office sales (right)

Your brain predicts others’ responses

These and other studies now point to a fascinating and newly discovered phenomenon: brain responses in a smaller sample can predict responses in masses of people.

A favorite demonstration of this can be done with the following thought experiment: imagine that you went into a cinema where a horror movie was shown. You would observe or record the audience’s behavioral responses. How their bodies stiffened, their gaze became fixated on the silver canvas. How they would jump in their seat at the very same moment.

Some phases of the movie would be associated with coherent and consistent responses in the audience. Everyone would be jumping in their seats. There would be some variation, as some would jump more, some less. Other phases of the movie would have less coherency.

The studies described above now show that this coherency in a smaller group is highly predictive of how the market as a whole will respond. When done right, behavioral and neural responses are power tools to measure and understand consumer responses, and now show that they are equally strong tools in predicting market responses.

#prediction #emotion #coherency #neuroscience #groupcoherency

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Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy
BrainEthics

Applying the latest neuroscience to solve world problems and challenge our minds.