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Marketing and Mind Control

 

How the emotional parts of our brains can be manipulated

WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY

By Wray Herbert

Special to Newsweek

 

Updated: 10:10 a.m. ET Oct 24, 2006

 

Oct. 24, 2006 - Imagine that I have $100 and I offer you $20 of it, no strings attached. You'd take it, right? Any fool would; it's a windfall. But imagine further that you know I must give away part of my $100 or lose it all. All of a sudden my motives aren't entirely altruistic, but I'm still offering you free money. Take it or leave it, but no negotiation allowed. How would you feel? What would you do?

 

If you were like a lot of people who have answered these questions in a psychological experiment over the years, you would now feel conflicted. Many of these people actually walked away from the deal, even though it would have meant a no-strings-attached twenty bucks in their pockets. Why? Because the arrangement is fundamentally unfair, and once you know this your basic sense of moral indignation clicks in. Your emotions and principles trump your pure rationality.

 

Psychologists have demonstrated this in the laboratory, time and time again. It's known as the Ultimatum Game, and its counterintuitive findings are part of a broad new understanding of how the human brain and mind work. As it turns out, we are not very reasonable creatures much of the time, nor are we very aware. Indeed, we are under constant sway of our emotions and intuitions, and most of the time we are not even aware of just how quirky and emotional our everyday decisions are.

 

Consider another experiment from the emerging field of social neuroscience. Psychologist John Bargh flashed words in front of volunteers, but so rapidly that they did not register in the conscious mind. Some of the words had to do with rudeness (like impolite and obnoxious) while others were the opposite (respect, considerate). The volunteers were later put in a simulated situation in which they could be civil toward one another—or not. Many who had seen the words associated with rudeness were not. Two-thirds of the volunteers who had been primed with rudeness words interrupted another person afterward, compared to only 16 percent of those primed with politeness words.

 

I don't know about you, but I find this very sobering. It seems Bargh was able to make human beings behave politely or rudely, and without all that much effort, simply by fiddling with the automatic, emotional parts of their brain. What does this say about our autonomy, our free will? This is the basic question raised by neurologist Richard Restak in his new, somewhat dystopian book, "The Naked Brain," published late last month by Harmony Books. It's worth reading, both as a solid primer on a fascinating new psychological science and as a warning about the potential misuse of brain science for nefarious purposes.

 

The power of our emotional brain is not a good thing or a bad thing entirely. It depends on the situation. It's probably good that our righteous moral indignation clicks on automatically sometimes; our personal finances may suffer a bit, but we're better people for it. But how about other fast, automatic emotions, like fear? Cognitive psychologist Michael Gazzaniga has done many experiments with patients who, for medical reasons, have had their brains' hemispheres disconnected. This means that the left hemisphere, in charge of language, isn't communicating with the right hemisphere. Using distressing pictures and words, Gazzaniga in effect creates negative emotion in the brain's right hemisphere, out of conscious awareness. The subjects experience the emotion, but they don't understand it, so the rational left hemisphere attempts to interpret the mysterious emotion, and it sometimes makes mistakes. So an unexplained dip in mood or a sensation of discomfort might be wrongly attributed to, say, a spouse's selfishness or even infidelity—with untoward consequences.

 

One of the most fascinating and potentially alarming findings to come out of social neuroscience has to do with specialized brain cells called "mirror neurons." Mirror neurons closely intertwine emotion with movement. They are what make you smile when a baby smiles, or make me grimace when I see you in pain. And the physical act of smiling or grimacing unleashes emotions of joy or suffering. In short, mirror neurons are the neurological foundation of empathy, which is a building block of compassion. But as Restak explains, such a potent connection between two brains could have a flip side: It means that all I have to do to manipulate your mind is to get your attention.

 

Marketers and politicians are already familiar with these advances in brain science, and are using this knowledge to control our behavior. Or at least they are trying to do so. Advertisements are deliberately designed to target the emotional brain and create bonds, even cravings (one of our basest and most powerful emotional drives). Extensive research shows that our brains have certain hardwired propensities that might be exploited. For example, our brains tend to register frequently heard facts as true, even if they are patently false. As a result, our memories and beliefs are highly malleable and unreliable. We also tend, if unchecked by the conscious reasoning mind, to focus overly on risk, inconvenience, hassles—anything negative. And researchers have found that we all carry around an innate hostility toward "otherness," which means anyone not like us.

 

These hardwired traits are difficult to shake, in part because they were adaptive when our early ancestors were evolving on the savannahs and have been reinforced ever since. But they are clearly no longer adaptive, and indeed make us vulnerable to all sorts of subtle conditioning. Should we be worried? In the final analysis, Restak does not believe that brain science has advanced far enough yet to give marketers any persuasive powers they didn't have already. Despite remarkable progress in understanding the brain's anatomy and biochemistry, the organ is far too complex an array of interconnected circuits to be that easily manipulated with simple subliminal stimuli. Advertisers may be disappointed to hear it, but there is no "Buy now!" switch hidden among the neurons and synapses.

 

That strikes me as a reasoned conclusion, just what one would expect from a deliberative scientific mind systematically weighing the available facts. So why do I have this nagging, unexplained sense of foreboding coming from some recess in my brain?

 

Wray Herbert writes the "We're Only Human . . ." blog. It appears at www.psychologicalscience.org/onlyhuman.

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I know myself to be coldly logical, and I apply my reasoning to just about everything. But I have been saying a lot lately that we humans are not nearly as guided by our intellects as we like to think. We are perhaps 98% as purely emotional and instinctual as other animals. Intelligence is a tool.

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I don't think I'd feel conflicted. It's obviously a win-win situation, and I don't begrudge the other chap the $80 he keeps.

 

However, I do know very well the way emotional ups and downs interfere with life. Especially when my energy supply is low, after a too-short sleep or when I'm coming down with a cold. Or when things happen too fast. Knowing that my first instinct can be wrong, I sometimes manage to overpower it by taking extra time to enumerate options and their possible outcomes.

 

Example: I wake up feeling like utter crap emotionally, don't want to go to work because of some stressful thing that happened the day before. I take the time to do a mental walkthrough and it eventually occurs to me that if I don't deal with it now the same problem will be there the next day, too. Then I go into "just put one foot in front of the other and do your best" mode, and get through the day just fine.

 

Willpower relies heavily on reason, IMHO.

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Interesting, though, that when we find a $50 bill most of us don't feel badly about picking that up.

 

Well I do.

 

This very behaviour has left me with nearly no friends at my place of work. Each week approximately 20 to 30 mobile phones are found as well as a number of wallets/purses. My colleagues have no problem simply keeping these items. But as they aren't mine, and weren't given to me - I will either try to find the owner, or hand them into the Police station.

 

One of my work mates actually makes a bit of money selling mobiles that he finds and has sold to him by other workers. He sends them to his home country (New Zealand) where the technology is a bit behind. I have had many heated arguments with him and others about this. In my eyes it is theft. An effort should be made to return the items to their owners.

 

I am avoided like the plague whenever someone has found something and wants to sell it to him, or wants to reprogram it.

 

The funny thing is, the guy who sends the mobiles to NZ is high up the hierarchy in his Catholic Church. My employers are all strict Greek Orthodox and the others who also keep these lost articles are from the Assyrian Church of the East. They are all supposed to be good law-abiding Christians. So much for honest. Society I guess has a long way to go.

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Chefranden... super interesting article, as usual!

 

I'm curious as to how different sectors of the population may differ from others though. Such as a business person may look at the person who is offering the $20 out of their $100, as sharing their windfall opportunity they got with them, instead of someone else, and be very grateful! Do you think knowledge and mindset may altar our different responses in different groups of people?

 

I know we are subjected to many subliminal suggestions all the time in advertising, politics, work, churches, and even in our private lives! Repressed memories and issues have a lot of effect on us that we are very unaware, making present feelings oblivious to how they originated. Compounding these suggestions' influential power by repeating them is also very effective to gain its intended outcome. Sometimes everyone involved is oblivious to these crucial dynamics that are actually taking place. Articles like this help us become more aware of what we are actually engaged in on a day to day basis. Thanks for sharing... AGAIN! :thanks:

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As I have gotten older, I have found that it is best to never, ever act on emotions alone. I have made a conscious decision to master my emotions with cold logic. While I by no way am trying to be a Mr. Spock, in my experience having logic informed by emotions is much better than allowing emotions to control logic. I am much better in this regard now, than I was in my 20's.

 

Bruce

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Both.

 

To be human is to experience emotions--sometimes very strongly. Try all you like, we're not Vulcans and we never will be.

 

That said, I think Dhampir and Bruce have pretty well hit the nail on the head. Reason is a tool to be used for the improvement of our lives, and it is almost always far better to make a decision based on a corroboration of reason and emotion rather than rely strictly on the latter.

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I think emotions are part of our primitive brain, closely associated with our instincts. Emotions are found/decoded in our amygdala. I understand there is not a significant connection of our emotions to our cerebral cortex, responsible for rational thought, till we are in our early twenties. Some say this is why teenagers are impossible! :HaHa: Reaching 34 years old, the connection becomes more substantiated, and reason takes more preference. Some say that is why criminal behavior seldom originates after this age, white collar being the exception. Even so, the amygdala, closely associated to these basic emotional instincts are still important for reflexes dealing with self defense responses and even erotic feelings. So perhaps one does not want to give up ALL these instinctual emotions entirely, and depend on the slower emergence of reason to take over. :wicked:

 

More found on the amygdala and emotions here.

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It's reason above emotion for me almost always, but depending on the situation. At least with reason, it's easier to figure out. With emotion, it's what clouds your mind and disallows room for reason in most cases.

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As much as I'd like to say that reason controls me most of the time - very often my emotions control me. And that's the honest truth. So often I'll do things that are completely irrational because they give me an emotional response I'm looking for (or possibly am addicted to). Meh, all part of being human.

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I remember when I went to college and studied marketing. The amount of psychology that goes into it is pretty amazing. But yeah, ads are definitely designed to manipulate you.

 

I would like to say I am controlled by reason most of the time, but probably there is a combination of the two factors. People are human and emotion is going to enter into it at least some of the time.

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both reason and emotion have controlled me. At one point I was purely emotional. And now I seem to have become a different person altogether. I don't know which one I like better yet.

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Those who have tried to quit smoking and failed time and again have "reason" to doubt the strength of reason vs. feeling. I eventually overcame that nasty habit, but only after getting violently sick after a night of drinking and smoking. I was so afraid of getting that sick again that I quit both from that point (May 1975) to this day. For all I know it was food poison that was the real culprit, but my emotion pinned it on drinking an smoking.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Marketing and Mind Control

 

How the emotional parts of our brains can be manipulated

WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY

By Wray Herbert

Special to Newsweek

 

Updated: 10:10 a.m. ET Oct 24, 2006

 

Oct. 24, 2006 - Imagine that I have $100 and I offer you $20 of it, no strings attached. You'd take it, right? Any fool would; it's a windfall. But imagine further that you know I must give away part of my $100 or lose it all. All of a sudden my motives aren't entirely altruistic, but I'm still offering you free money. Take it or leave it, but no negotiation allowed. How would you feel? What would you do?

 

If you were like a lot of people who have answered these questions in a psychological experiment over the years, you would now feel conflicted. Many of these people actually walked away from the deal, even though it would have meant a no-strings-attached twenty bucks in their pockets. Why? Because the arrangement is fundamentally unfair, and once you know this your basic sense of moral indignation clicks in. Your emotions and principles trump your pure rationality.

 

Psychologists have demonstrated this in the laboratory, time and time again. It's known as the Ultimatum Game, and its counterintuitive findings are part of a broad new understanding of how the human brain and mind work. As it turns out, we are not very reasonable creatures much of the time, nor are we very aware. Indeed, we are under constant sway of our emotions and intuitions, and most of the time we are not even aware of just how quirky and emotional our everyday decisions are.

 

 

 

Emotion,

 

But I think of myself as being in control of both my intellectual and emotional sides.

 

Not taking the $20 just so the other guy won't be able to collect his $80 seems a bit selfish and petty. Any caring human being would take the $20 and be happy for the guy who just made his $80. It's hard to believe that many people would be so childish about something so insignificant.

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Interesting, though, that when we find a $50 bill most of us don't feel badly about picking that up.

I would have to respectfully disagree with you there. True, I would pick the $50 up, but only until I was able to hand it in at the nearest police station. And if nobody came to claim it, only then would I pocket it. I was raised to be honest - it's part of what stops me from breaking the law. That, and because I am shit-scared of authority.

 

That said - reason has a major controlling factor in my existence. I'm rarely moved by emotion. Only if I'm in the right sort of mood does emotion have any sort of hold on me. Which makes it fairly obvious that I don't cry at supposedly emotional movies. I've been that way for years.

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I see most of us think we are in control of our emotions. :)

 

I, too, chose reason. Partly because there were only 2 choices.

 

Very, very often, emotion drives my initial reaction, but I try and double check it against reason. if there is time, I try to control my life by reason, not emotion. It is one of the things that helps us rise above the animal we are evolved from.

 

The accompanying post, however, is fascinating. If it were not true, there would be no advertising or marketing or con men. We are emotional beasts, and if we have no control over that, others can use it to control us.

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an either or answer doesn't do it for me.

&

Control isn't a word I'd like to use in the context of my life...sounds like my life is up for grabs.. or that I can be affected without my consent...

 

vulnerable to control freaks.....(except my own hormones and body chemicals)

 

:lmao:

 

obviously I'm one of those emotional critters - a wholistic junkie ..uses all parts of my brain, memory, experiences...& intuition...

 

 

I don't put anymore credibity or value on emotional or logical thinking....& I doubt any thought is emotion free.

 

Integrate it!

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