Neural Marketing: Brain Response to Culturally Familiar Drinks

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Neuron, Vol. 44, 379–387, October 14, 2004, Copyright 2004 by Cell Press

Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks Samuel M. McClure,1,2 Jian Li,1 Damon Tomlin, ´ Kim S. Cypert, Latane M. Montague, and P. Read Montague* Department of Neuroscience Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Baylor College of Medicine 1 Baylor Plaza Houston, Texas 77030 neural responses, and the modulation of both by nonodor or nonflavor stimuli—that is, the sensory problem. Ultimately, such sensory discriminations and the variables that influence them serve to influence expressed behavioral preferences. Hence, there is another large piece of the problem to understand. For modern humans, behavioral preferences for food and beverages are potentially modulated by an enormous number of sensory variables, hedonic states, expectations, semantic priming, and social context. This assertion can be illustrated with a quote from Anderson and Sobel (2003) profiling the work of Small et al. (2003) on taste intensity and pleasantness processing: “A salad of perfectly grilled woodsy-flavored calamari paired with subtly bitter pale green leaves of curly endive and succulent petals of tomato flesh in a deep, rich balsamic dressing. Delicate slices of pan-roasted duck breast saturated with an assertive, tart-sweet tamarind-infused marinade.”

Summary Coca-Cola (Coke ) and Pepsi are nearly identical in chemical composition, yet humans routinely display strong subjective preferences for one or the other. This simple observation raises the important question of how cultural messages combine with content to shape our perceptions; even to the point of modifying behavioral preferences for a primary reward like a sugared drink. We delivered Coke and Pepsi to human subjects in behavioral taste tests and also in passive experiments carried out during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Two conditions were examined: (1) anonymous delivery of Coke and Pepsi and (2) brand-cued delivery of Coke and Pepsi. For the anonymous task, we report a consistent neural response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that correlated with subjects’ behavioral preferences for these beverages. In the brand-cued experiment, brand knowledge for one of the drinks had a dramatic influence on expressed behavioral preferences and on the measured brain responses. Introduction Perceptual constructs are generally multidimensional, integrating multiple physical and cognitive dimensions to generate coherent behavioral preferences. In sensory processing, the idea of multidimensional integration has long been used to frame a range of questions about cross-modal interactions in physiological and behavioral responses (Stein et al., 1996; 1999; Wallace and Stein, 1997; Armony and Dolan, 2001; Dolan et al., 2001; Laurienti et al., 2002, 2003). This same multidimensional perspective has also been developed for olfactory and gustatory processing, where the detection, discrimination, and perceived intensity of stimuli are not only functions of the primary physical properties (odors, flavors) but are also modulated “cross-modally” by visual input (Gottfried and Dolan, 2003), auditory input, and current reward value (Gottfried et al., 2003). The work just described has focused on the perceptual discrimination of odors and flavors, the correlated *Correspondence: 1 These authors contributed equally to this work. 2 Present address: Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544.

The text goes on further, but note that the sheer lushness of the description adds somehow to the appeal of the food described. Also notice one implicit point of the description: many levels of social, cognitive, and cultural influences combine to produce behavioral preferences for food and drink. The above description likely would not appeal to a strict vegan or an owner of a pet duck. Anderson and Sobel point out that the...
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