Tag Archives: David Forbes

Beware the Brain-Science Backlash

It’s official: After decades of watching neuroscience move
from being a strange stepsister of psychology to cutting-edge medical research,
the inevitable backlash is in full swing.
The year’s just half over, and already, such books as Brainwashed:
The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience; A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind:
What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, and Brain Imaging:
What it Can (and Cannot) Tell Us About Consciousness have hit the shelves.
There are cheeky blogs debunking neuropsuedoscience, like NeuroBollocks. And in the
ultimate proof that skepticism is top of mind, The New Yorker says it’s so.
Check out Gary Marcus’ recent The
Problem With The Neuroscience Backlash.
The reason there is such an onslaught of accusations about
neuroscience overreaching itself is because so many people have, in fact,
overreached. As this approach to thinking about people and human behavior grew
increasingly popular, practitioners of neuroscience felt that natural urge to
‘run with the ball’ ‘ making increasingly expansive and provocative claims
about the powers of the science . Most famously, neuromarketers informed Frito
Lay that women looking at their snack packages felt ‘guilty’ ‘ based on
observed activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulated
cortex. Frito Lay reacted to this information by making major changes in its
snack packaging. The problem was that academic neuroscientists will tell you
that there is no area of the brain that can be associated with guilt ‘ and that
the anterior cingulate cortex has been associated with error detection ‘ fairly
different from the concept of guilt. Using ‘reverse inference’ to translate
FMRI patterns into psychological concepts such as guilt or desire can only lead
to marketing conclusions that are neither certain nor credible. Brain scans
don’t yet offer the insights we need to formulate marketing strategies. We are
doubtless many years away ‘ if it will ever be possible ‘ from knowing which
neurons govern such psychological phenomena as guilt or generosity or ambition.
Meanwhile, other practitioners of business research
recognized that the neuroscience idea was ‘hot’, and soon it seemed that
everyone has some type of ‘neuroscience’ in their product mix. All of this
naturally winds up with trouble. As legitimate practitioners of FMRI research
stretched the science beyond its current limits, and as faux ‘neuroscientists’
with no basis for their claim crowd onto the stage, it is only natural that the
term would begin to be attached to shaky or even completely bogus science. This
activity is a natural target for a public backlash.
The customers of neuroscience have also played a role in
creating the backlash against neuroscience. Many new technologies in science
are initially greeted with over-strong levels of enthusiasm, as people hope
that ‘finally’ some of the frustrating inadequacies of current methods might be
overcome ‘ including the current heavy reliance on some form of self report to
measure emotional enthusiasm. The business community pounced on brain research
with delight as soon as it appeared: after all those years of parsing what
consumers told us in subjective focus group results, there was suddenly science.
This made for a very welcoming audience to those who might exaggerate the
powers of the new scientific technology, and a potentially gullible audience
for those attempting to masquerade as practitioners of the new. Overly
enthusiastic individuals who climbed uncritically onto the ‘next new thing’
were bound to get disappointed ‘ and hence the fuel for the backlash.
The backlash raises important issues, and hopefully sends
signals to practitioners and would-be customers alike about the importance of
reasonable conservatism in making claims for a new science, and about the need
for customers to exercise critical judgment in evaluating any new scientific
technology as a possible solution to research challenges. Going forward it is
critical that researchers eliminate any suggestion of smoke-and-mirrors from
our claims, and resist the urge to hyperbolize in the face of public
enthusiasm.
The brain is a wondrous organ, and the study of
neurophysiology and neuropsychology represents a huge forefront in psychological
science today. But right now, we don’t have a perfect map of what happens in
the human brain. We barely have a map at all. President Barack Obama’s $100
million funding for the Brain Initiative earlier this year is great news for
all of us who are interested in the brain. The more we know, the more
inferences we will be able to make about human emotion, thought and behavior.
At this point, we need to move carefully so as to benefit
from the promise of this new science without creating overpromise. For example,
Sands Research uses EEG to measure increased attention and arousal. They found
that ads that both build and sustain attention and arousal are more effective
than those that fail to maintain this activity. In one famous study, this
technique was used to evaluate a series of Super Bowl ads finding one ad in
particular that was associated with stronger EEG responses than any previously
had ever tested. This ad subsequently generated over 6.8 billion worldwide
impressions, 50 million views online, massively increased traffic to the brand
website, and directly contributed to North American sales. Using simple and
straightforward neuroscience measures, and drawing conservative claims, Sands
effectively used neuroscience to help the client.
Only with this kind of careful and conservative application
of neuroscience in market research will we be able to ensure that marketers do
not heave the baby out with the bathwater, as they react to disappointing
results from claims that were wildly premature.
I believe the focus should be primarily on developing
measures and methods that leverage the basic empirical findings of neuroscience
(such as the neuropsychology of image processing) to craft emotional research
tools that get beyond the problems of simple self-report. Attempting to stretch
our understanding of functional neuroanatomy beyond the bounds of current
scientific consensus will only lead to accusations of chicanery from the core
of the scientific community.  Specific
emotional phenomena that marketers seek to create in their audiences emerge
from interactions among a massive web of neurons, with vast numbers of
potential connections that are currently well outside our functional
neuroanatomical understanding. (The latest count, in case you were wondering, is
that the typical adult brain contains 86 billion neurons, and then about the
same number of glial cells helping connect these neurons.) If we are ever able
to point to the neurology of feeling the drive for achievement, or of
experiencing the urge to nurture one’s family, that will be a very long way
off.
So as with all science, we must temper enthusiasm with
caution, we must push the envelope of our methods without tearing it wide open.
Neuroscience will surely point the way to greater self-knowledge for the human
race, and greater opportunities for the whole of human culture ‘ including
business and marketing. I close with somewhat famous watchwords that are
appropriate for those who would practice (or purchase) neuroscience: ‘If your
mind is too open, your brain may fall out.’

About the Author:
David Forbes holds a Ph.D. in clinical and cognitive psychology from Clark
University, and was a member of the faculties of Harvard Medical School
Department of Psychiatry and the Harvard Laboratory of Human Development before
beginning his career as a business consultant. He founded Forbes Consulting
over 20 years ago as a strategic market research consultancy dedicated to
creating business advantage through psychological consumer insights. He has
since built Forbes into a major resource for scores of major corporations in
the CPG, Financial Services, and Pharmaceuticals industries, domestically and
internationally. David is the creator of the MindSight?? emotional
assessment technologies, a suite of applied neuropsychological methods for understanding
consumer emotion and motivation, without the distortions of conscious editing
and self-presentation.  

Why Mobile is a Game Changer’for Research and Dunkin’ Donuts

By David Forbes, Ph.D.

One of the things we love best about using our MindSight?? technology via mobile is that it lets us capture consumers’ emotional responses right in the moment, while they are still fresh.   Research in memory consistently tells us that the passage of time works to distort our memories, so that remembering something for the first time ‘ right after it happens, may look very different from remembering it hours or days later, because our memories change with each act of remembering.
One implication of this is that getting feedback about customer experiences right after they happen can be very important. So, for example, in our recent work for a large Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee, we took to the field and got consumers to tell us about emotions using their smart phones.This client was troubled by a few underperforming stores among his franchises. These franchises seemed very much like his high performing stores at first glance: they had identical offerings, were the same size and located in similar areas. They were even staffed by comparable crews.  And past measures of customer satisfaction indicated little difference between the stores.
To solve the mystery, we sent researchers to study the emotional experience of customers at a high-performing store and at a low performing one.  Over the course of the morning rush, we showed off the MindSight?? ‘game,’ and invited them to try it themselves on their mobile devices ‘ what we learned was unexpected.
What wasn’t different between the stores were rational dimensions of performance like how long the line was, or how accurately the orders were filled.  Both stores did fine on those criteria.  What was different was the nature of the emotional experience in these two stores.
Both stores did well on some key elements of emotional experience ‘ fulfilling a desire to feel empowered and achieved ‘ to ‘start your engines and dive into the day.’  But the high performing store also did well in delivering another ‘softer’ type of emotional experience ‘ the desire to feel understood, and even a little bit nurtured.

At the high performing store, the crew greeted customers warmly, sometimes even by name. They frequently knew what ‘regulars’ wanted, and would start on that hazelnut-light-two-sugars even before the customer had a chance to order it.

At the low-performing store, coffee transactions were less personalized and nurturing, more businesslike and anonymous. MindSight?? images chosen by those coffee drinkers to capture the feeling of their customer experience made it clear that they didn’t feel nurtured here. They felt isolated, and in fact, they even felt incompetent (about their store choice.)  These results fit well with earlier work we’ve done in breakfast cereals, that shows us how people tend to be a bit infantile in the morning, and kind of vulnerable ‘ almost as if they are ‘waking up like infants’ and needing to be gentled.
The ‘no frills’ satisfaction of timely, competent service reported in both stores did not reveal the important differences in service experience between the high and low performing stores.  Only a method focused on the emotional experience revealed the issue.  And a method using images to get ‘under the radar’ was likely critical.  I doubt many of these consumers could have articulated the pleasure at feeling recognized and nurtured if we had asked ‘it’s like confessing that you wish your Mom could still cut your toast in little triangles and butter it just so.
Finally, a method that allowed us to get ‘in the moment’ feedback was likely critical to the insight ‘ measuring consumers emotions while they were still in that emotional mood of ‘morning vulnerability.’  Cognitive science tells us that memories of negative feelings tend to fade over time (the ‘Fading Affect Bias’) we suspect that feelings of incompetence, and of being isolated, during a morning coffee purchase are very good candidates to ‘fade’ (as the day progresses).
Our client is in the process of coaching the staff in under-performing stores to add those warm touches, asking customers’ names and treating them like regulars. We’re betting that will be enough to turn those stores around, so stay tuned.
Want to learn more about this topic? Attend TMRE 2013 in Nashville, TN October 21-23. For details, click here:  http://bit.ly/1eV1G5q We hope to see you there!  

About the Author: David Forbes holds a Ph.D. in clinical and cognitive psychology from Clark University, and was a member of the faculties of Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry and the Harvard Laboratory of Human Development before beginning his career as a business consultant. He founded Forbes Consulting over 20 years ago as a strategic market research consultancy dedicated to creating business advantage through psychological consumer insights. He has since built Forbes into a major resource for scores of major corporations in the CPG, Financial Services, and Pharmaceuticals industries, domestically and internationally. David is the creator of the MindSight?? emotional assessment technologies, a suite of applied neuropsychological methods for understanding consumer emotion and motivation, without the distortions of conscious editing and self presentation.  

Understanding and Measuring the Role of Emotions in Consumer Behavior

By David Forbes, Ph.D.
In results from both business and academic research, it’s
become increasingly evident that emotions control as much or more of our
behavior than rational thinking’ And while we might use rational thoughts
(formed in the higher brain) to justify our decisions, it’s often the feelings
(from our primitive, or limbic brains) that run the show.
As these findings have begun to impact the strategies of market research, the need to uncover and understand consumer emotions in
particular parts of the lifestyle, and emotions toward particular types of
products, has grown accordingly. But developing techniques for emotional
research is a real challenge ‘ getting people to talk is often difficult. They
may not want to talk about feelings, on principle (think John Wayne), or they
may have a hard time articulating a feeling. They may be perfectly able to identify
the emotion, but not want to admit to it, even to themselves.
To get ‘under the radar’ of consumer resistance to talk
about emotions, we’ve applied some of the findings in neuroscience about image
processing to create a new tool. We created this tool ‘ which we call
MindSight?? ‘ using images, not words, and timing the exercise so consumers must
respond within what we call ‘the emotional discovery window’ that lies between
the time it takes for an emotional response to an image to begin to form
(roughly 200 milliseconds) and the time it takes for rational reflection and
processing to begin ‘ which leads to editing and distortion of those emotional
responses (one full second).

Using this tool, we have uncovered some very interesting
findings. We recently did some work for a birdseed company, looking at the
emotional motivations for using lots of birdseed. What we found was a mix of
very expected emotional facts alongside an extremely unexpected but interesting
emotional ‘aha.’
As expected, plenty of bird seed users are
through-and-through bird lovers, motivated by a desire to feel a sense of
nurturance by taking good care of their feathered friends. But we also
uncovered an unexpected (and equally large) segment, motivated by a sense of
mastery. For them, feeding the birds is aesthetic, part of taking care of their
homes. They wanted attractive birdseed that would draw impressive birds.
Cardinals, orioles and finches made a decorative statement about them, just
like the color of their home or the style of their landscaping.
In another case, we looked at the emotional reactions that
women wanted to create in their social lives. In this work we found two
distinct themes in women’s desires: one focused around being perceived as
emotionally giving ‘ relationship building and caretaking. The other focused
around being emotionally assertive and powerful ‘ communicated by a sense of
mastery and achievement. Our big ‘aha’ in this case was that the very same
women often wanted to send both of these messages. We learned a bit, I
think, about the complexity of emotions facing the challenges of modern-day
women.

The work of understanding the complexity of the emotional
machinery the drives our behavior is just getting started. We are looking
forward to using MindSight?? to decode emotional motivation across the full
richness of consumer lifestyles.

About the Author: David Forbes holds a
Ph.D. in clinical and cognitive psychology from Clark University, and was a
member of the faculties of Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry and
the Harvard Laboratory of Human Development before beginning his career as a
business consultant. He founded Forbes Consulting over 20 years ago as
a strategic market research consultancy dedicated to creating business
advantage through psychological consumer insights. He has since built Forbes into a major resource for scores of major corporations in the CPG,
Financial Services, and Pharmaceuticals industries, domestically and
internationally. 
David is the creator of the MindSight?? emotional assessment
technologies, a suite of applied neuropsychological methods for understanding
consumer emotion and motivation, without the distortions of conscious editing
and self presentation.