August 22, 2008
The Emerging World of Neuroeconomics
By: Stacy Wood
Behavioral researchers have one thing in common - they make assumptions about the brain. And yet, the brain itself remains a "black box"; responsible for so much and yet inherently mysterious and remote. Scholars who study the behavioral realms in business (consumer behavior, behavioral economics, behavioral finance, etc.) draw conclusions about what is going on in the brain based on what inputs go into this black box and what behaviors are subsequently observed. I, for one, have often wished we could just pry open the lid of box and peer inside. The emerging interdisciplinary science of neuroeconomics may allow us to do just that.
Neuroscience methods allow for the mapping of brain activity through different techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and electroencephalography (EEG). In neuroeconomics, these techniques are combined with sophisticated experimental paradigms from economics and consumer psychology to explore how human choice and decision-making are mapped to specific neural circuitries. The resulting research is a direct look at brain activation in response to specific choice scenarios.
What insights have been generated by this new field? One study has debunked a common marketplace framework in which we treat person-brand relationships in the same way as person-person relationships. Research by Yoon et al. (2006) shows that we don't judge products in the same way that we judge people contrary to the common tendency for us to think of product "relationships" in ways that are analogous to human relationships (e.g., when products "let us down" or when we are "loyal to" a brand). fMRI scans show that product judgments use a part of the brain (the left inferior prefrontal cortex) that is associated with object processing compared to people judgments that trigger increased activation of the medial prefrontal cortex. Another cool study shows that the price of wine influences the actual experience of that wine. Plassman et al. (2008) show that increasing the price of the wine increased their participants' subjective report of the pleasantness of the flavor (not too surprising) but also their real taste pleasure (very surprising!) as indicated by higher levels of oxygen-level- dependent activity in a part of the brain that is widely believed to be involved in the experience of pleasantness, the medial orbitofrontal cortex. My own research (with neuroscience and consumer behavior colleagues) examines marketplace deception and finds evidence of a fast "defensive" attentional process that targets highly deceptive claims before truncating processing.
Increasing interest in this research is promising. Drazen Prelec, a professor at MIT Sloan, is a guest editor for an upcoming special issue on "The Biological Basis of Business" for the journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. More schools are creating centers for neuroeconomic research (such as the one I direct at USC). But, the costs - both in terms of learning and conducting research - are extremely high and many researchers who are initially excited by the interdisciplinary possibilities are soon frustrated by the difficulties of working in two very different worlds. But, the promise of brain research in the decision sciences appears to winning out over the problems. For example, I attended Duke University's Center for Neuroeconomic Studies retreat last week and was delighted to see the efforts to forge research bonds across diverse fields and to better educate each other about our different interdisciplinary perspectives.
One word of caution remains. Many popular press accounts of neuroeconomic research seem to fall into one of two camps. Some dismiss this research as too limited, too idiosyncratic, or too imprecise in its current form and thus unable to say much about anything. Others dismiss this research for the opposite reason - it is too informative and borders on scientific "peeping" to look at someone's brain while they make a choice or evaluate a product. Ultimately, the truth must lie between these points. Neuroeconomic research, while a challenging path for today's researcher, is likely to be an increasingly valuable technique that can uniquely inform our understanding of human decision-making and consumption experience.
Yoon, Carolyn; Gutchess, Angela H; Feinberg, Fred, and Polk, Thad A. A
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Neural Dissociations
between Brand and Person Judgments. Journal of Consumer Research. Vol
33(1) June 2006, 31-40.
Stacy Wood is Moore Research Fellow and and an associate professor of marketing at the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on how consumers react and adapt to change; her work investigates both individuals' processing of new product information, drivers of individual innovativeness, and consumers' emotional reactions to new innovations, media, trends, and rituals.
Introducing Sheila Seles
Joining the C3 team this semester is Sheila Seles, who joins CMS as a graduate student and is coming onto the project as a Graduate Researcher. Sheila's bio is included below -- she'll be working with us on the blog, research reports and at C3 events.
Seles studied television and popular culture under Jason Mittell, completing a senior thesis project centered on the American television industry's relationship to the British sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous. She did an internship with the writers of The Shield in Los Angeles, getting a first hand glimpse on how television gets produced: "I had the chance to see several episodes of The Shield's fifth season from brainstorming in the writer's room to post-production."
All of this has given her a strong focus on the creative industries, which motivated her to attend the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference. She has also developed a growing interest at the intersection between fan cultures and activism, especially as related to both gender issues and net neutrality.
Revisiting 3D - A Phased Foray into the Third Dimension of Media Images (Part 3 of 3)
By: Stefan Werning
This is the final instalment of Stefan's essay on the impact of 3D technology on media images and storytelling. Last week, Stefan wrote about the impact of 3D technology on the way we think about storytelling by considering the current resurgence in interest in 3D techniques. You can read the entire essay by visiting the newsletter archive online. Visit http://www.convergenceculture.org and login, then follow the links to the newsletter archive.
As another 'layer' derived from the historical cross-reading, 3D film in the early 1950s coincided with the commercial exploration of stereophonic sound through films like Warner Bros.' House of Wax (1953), more than 10 years after its first use in a commercial motion picture, Fantasia (1940). While the current focus on 3D display techniques does not (yet) take into account advances in 3D audio, such a joint approach, at least on the level of effective design, could be feasible judging from the historical 'precedentâ.
Considering those parallel forces driving the implementation of 3D in media representation, applicability within the sphere of digital games would be an obvious related field; the 'lessons' from the 3D revival are thereby probably impractical for other media forms like video games. One important rationale for revisiting 3D in cinema environments is the desire to create a 'soft' piracy prevention measure by offering demonstratable added value and establishing a distinction between abundantly available video content and film as a singular experience. In the 1980s, stereoscopic display technologies were investigated as a unique selling point for arcades and even patented. While some problems such as the fact that bystanders could not experience the 3D effect due to the particular projection technique impaired the experience, it appears surprising that few efforts are made (yet) to utilize advances in stereoscopic display to positively differentiate and re-envision arcades, even though admittedly the cultural acceptance of the concept outside of Japan is fairly low at present. Recent initiatives like Nintendo's strategy to implant its Nintendo DS portable gaming platform into public spaces and daily routines (with software dedicated to language learning and cooking as well as through strategic cooperation with museums.) could be one first step towards re-considering the premise of gathering spots for gaming outside of the house and with a more mainstream appeal.
At any rate, the promise of digital games using 3D technology similarly shapes and is shaped by economic structures which bring with them characteristic design contingencies. For instance, the publisher of the Avatar game tie-in Ubisoft is simultaneously planning to create a division for CGI movies which, after working externally at first, is planned to be incorporated more tightly in the future to enable asset sharing with the games divisions. (Martin, 2008) This development is reported to run in parallel with the exploration of 3D for digital games. Thus, the cooperation on a 3D IP such as Avatar is obviously an entry point for digital games publishers like Ubisoft to reverse the usual adaptation chain where digital games are based on external movie or book franchises but game IPs are only inconsistently licensed for inverse adaptation into books, movies or even TV mini series. In the case of Ubisoft, the upcoming restructuring is already precisely intended to benefit from these opportunities, i.e. positioning games at the beginning of the adaptation chain by creating the initial adaptations in-house and propagating this model of IP handling.
Finally, the return to 3D arguably drives the conception of novel business models for filmmaking in the style of and within the metaphorical confines of other, otherwise unrelated industries. In an interview, James Cameron compares the initial simultaneous availability of 3D films and the corresponding 2D versions, at least for a transitional period, to the Starbucks business model with "lots of choices" or, rather, customization. (e.g. Cohen, 2008) In another, earlier interview, the director had already envisioned the upcoming differentiation between 2D and 3D viewing options where users can decide on a case-by-case basis (e.g. by genre) whether to watch a movie in 2D or 3D as "another consumer choice, like premium or regular gas". (Business Week, 2007) This multiplicity of structural metaphors hints at the playful momentum inherent in the return to 3D which is characteristic of digital media industries, marking a new element over previous experiments with 3D representation, and which might be utilized most efficiently if seen in context rather than as a pioneering achievement of its most outspoken advocates.
Some bibliographical references
Wirtschaftswoche, "Das Kino erreicht die dritte Dimension," 14, 2008: 12
Denig, Lynde, "Stereoscopic Pictures Screened," Moving Picture World,
June 26, 1915: 2072
Stefan Werning works in product development for Nintendo of Europe. He recently finished his PhD at the University of Bonn, Germany. He has written on topics ranging from e-learning solutions based on digital games, modelling terrorism in recent military policies to interactive media analysis.