Thomas Z. Ramsøy

Our Brains are Predictive Variations on a Theme

Predicting Mass Behavior Through Neuroscience

Imagine a world where our brains hold the predictive key to unraveling and predicting the mysteries of market trends.

This is not a realm of fiction, but a burgeoning field of neuroscience that reveals the power of our minds in predicting large-scale market responses. In this post, I will explore how behavioral and brain responses in a smaller sample of people can actually predict in-market effects.

With this in mind, we lay the foundation for a whole new trend in marketing: the ability to predict human responses in seconds to minutes.

The Super Bowl Music Epiphany

More than a decade ago, during a Super Bowl halftime, neuroscientist Greg Berns had an epiphany. The music blaring from the speakers wasn’t just any tune; it was music he had previously analyzed in an experimental setting, tracking teens’ brain responses to these then-unknown tracks.

As millions tuned in, Berns pondered: could these brain scans predict a song’s viral success?

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

The answer, astoundingly, was yes. By examining brain regions like the basal ganglia and medial prefrontal cortex, Berns could predict which songs would top the charts.

Interestingly, these brain responses were not the same as the ones related to individual music preferences. It was as though the Berns had found an unconscious source of cultural popularity!

The Power of Subconscious Prediction

Berns’ predictive study was a breakthrough, but it was just the beginning. It ushered in a new era of cognitive neuroscience research, where small sample brain responses could predict mass cultural and market reactions.

This wasn’t about individual preferences anymore; it was about tapping into a universal human chord.

A favorite example is this: imagine that you go to the cinema, and it’s a horror movie. But instead of going to take your seat among everybody else, you go to the very front of the theater and turn to observe people as they watch the movie (or you put a camera there to record people).

As you can imagine, you will be able to tell from people just how engaging the movie is and when the jump scare happens. As a group, people tend to respond very similarly to the scary events. Some jump more, some jump less — but they all tend to respond coherently.

It turns out that how this smaller group responds is a great predictor of how the market will respond! With this realization in mind, we can turn to how other coherent group responses have predicted in-market effects.

TV, Twitter, and the Predictive Brain

Enter a study by Dmochowski and colleagues in 2014. Here, the focus was on TV viewership.

By measuring brain responses using EEG and fMRI, the researchers found that coherent brain responses in a small group watching TV content correlated with larger-scale market reactions, like Twitter behaviors and Nielsen ratings.

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

This was indeed a revelation: the collective brain was speaking, and the market was listening!

Predicting Box Office Hits

Fast forward to Boksem and Smidts in 2015, who took this idea to the silver screen, just as we suggested earlier with the cinema moviegoers.

They discovered that specific brain responses to movie trailers could predict box office success. Lower frontal beta responses equated to higher individual preference, while higher frontal gamma responses mirrored greater 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)

The implications were staggering – the brain’s reaction to a few minutes of footage could foretell a movie’s market triumph.

Your Brain as a Cultural Barometer

These studies illuminate a profound truth: our brains, in their collective response, can predict the reactions of masses.

Take the classic horror movie experience in a cinema. Every gasp, every jump in unison, is a microcosm of a larger, predictable pattern.

Some respond more intensely, others less, but the coherent response is what matters.

Harnessing the Predictive Power of the Brain

In essence, these studies show that the coherence of responses in a small group is a crystal ball into how the market at large will react.

Behavioral and neural responses are not just tools to understand consumer behavior; they are now powerful predictive tools of market responses.

As we continue to delve into the mysteries of the human brain, we unlock not just the secrets of individual preferences, but the future of market trends.