1. Study suggests photos are more credible but cartoons are more persuasive when conveying a message

    May 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) press release:

    If you’re creating a message to educate, inform, or persuade, don’t underestimate the power of a well-executed cartoon. A new study at the University of Illinois suggests if you’re trying to convince the public to change their stance on a topic such as wind energy, you may be more successful if you use a cartoon rather than a photograph.

    “Photographs were shown to be more credible, but cartoons were more likely to change behavior,” says U of I agricultural communications professor Lulu Rodriguez who led the study. “A cartoon grabs people’s attention long enough to deliver the message. That’s what you need in today’s message-heavy atmosphere. Why not use a tool that has proven ability to cut through the others and inform people in a way that actually works?”

    In the study, participants were shown one of two versions of the same set of brochures. Each set was designed to debunk a myth about wind energy, the intent being to give readers scientific information about wind energy and assuage their fears. Each pair of brochures was identical in design, text, color, size, etc. The only difference was that the originally designed brochures featured a beautiful, professional photograph of wind turbines, while the look-alike brochures created for the study swapped out the photograph with a cartoon.

    “You have to spend more time with a cartoon to figure out the meaning of the illustrations, and the situation,” Rodriguez says. “People look at cartoons longer, so they’re more cognitively engaged with the cartoon. Usually it includes humor and people work hard at figuring out the punch line. The photos used to represent wind energy on the original brochures were just beautiful scenic shots of the turbine blades or a landscape dotted with turbines so people didn’t look at them as long.”

    Interestingly, the respondents said the content was better in the cartoon brochures (even though the text was identical), but the credibility was lower than the brochures using photographs.

    “It may be because of the more light-hearted approach of cartoons,” Rodriquez says. “Cartoons make a topic like wind energy, which may be a bit scary to people, more accessible. But this notion of credibility is a different issue. We teach students to be conversational in writing. Don’t put on your ‘tuxedo’ language. And yet, people associate big words with credibility.”

    Rodriguez says the use of comics has already been shown to be effective in explaining scientific concepts and principles in high school chemistry classrooms. (Rodriguez is also the director of the agricultural communications program in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the College of Media.) She says she has not seen the comparison of photos versus cartoons studied in non-classroom settings.

    In addition to educational settings, the power of cartoons to persuade can be of value to agencies working to educate the public about a science-laden concept — one for which they would like to change opinion, intentions, or behaviors.

    “My interest is in making science more accessible to the public,” Rodriguez says. “This study offers real recommendations to communicate science better to a general audience. Understanding the science helps get people past whatever might be controversial about a scientific breakthrough or innovation. The controversies usually arise out of a lack of understanding.”

    In terms of wind energy, Rodriguez says, people worry about claims that the turbines kill birds, when in fact, cars kill more birds. “We kept hearing scientists say that people do not fully understand wind energy. So we thought, how can we deflect that misunderstanding?”

    Rodriguez cites communicating about GMOs as another possible case in which incorporating cartoons may inform people.

    “Most people don’t know about all the regulatory layers at the local and national level involved in producing GMOs. If you try to describe that for people in text, they may not get it or they may not be motivated to read lines and lines of words. Perhaps a cartoon showing safety regulations or the similarity of genetic engineering to natural crossing of plants would be more convincing,” she says.

    “I have a colleague who actually did this to explain how they got the vitamin A into golden rice using a cartoonish infographic. Not very scientific — but people get it. It’s a lot easier to explain complex scientific concepts that way.”

    Rodriguez admits that text and photos may be the easier route to take.

    “Truth be told, this is easy to recommend, but cartoons and effective information graphics are difficult to create. You have to hire someone with real skills to do it. Making things easier to understand is a difficult thing to do,” she says. “And, when people hire an advertising agency to create a brochure for their product or cause, they may lean toward using photos because they convey prestige or credibility. It may be difficult to convince them to use a cartoon because they think it reduces the classiness of the brochure.”

    The article, “The impact of comics on knowledge, attitude and behavioural intentions related to wind energy,” is published in an issue of the Journal of Visual Literacy.


  2. We buy what we grasp: How our hands lead us to choose certain products

    May 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Bocconi University press release:

    The things we touch while shopping can affect what we buy, according to studies by Bocconi Department of Marketing’s Zachary Estes and University of Innsbruck’s Mathias Streicher.

    In “Touch and Go: Merely Grasping a Product Facilitates Brand Perception and Choice,” published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, they conduct a series of experiments and show that blindfolded people induced to grasp familiar products (a bottle of Coke, for example) under the guise of a weight judgement task are then quicker in recognizing the brand name of the product when it slowly appears on a screen, include more frequently the product in a list of brands of the same category, and choose more often that product among others as a reward for having participated in the experiment.

    The authors suggest that tactile exposure to the object “activated the conceptual representation of that object, which then facilitated subsequent processing of the given object.

    In “Multisensory Interaction in Product Choice: Grasping a Product Affects Choice of Other Seen Products,” published in Journal of Consumer Psychology, via another series of experiments, Estes and Streicher demonstrate that grasping an object can facilitate visual processing and choice of other seen products of the same shape and size. “For instance,” explains Estes, “when you’re holding your mobile phone in your hand, you may be more likely to choose a KitKat than a Snickers, because the KitKat is shaped more like your phone. What we find is that consumers are significantly more likely to choose the product that is similar to the shape of whatever is in their hand. For instance, when confronted with a choice between a bottle of Coke and a can of Red Bull, participants who held a bottle of Fanta were more likely to choose a bottle of Coke, but those who held a can of Fanta more often chose the can of Red Bull. These studies show that our hands can lead us to choose certain products.”

    However, there are two caveats to this effect, one situational and one personal. The situational constraint has to do with visual density. That is, some product arrays are very sparse, with plenty of space between the products, whereas others are very dense, with many products placed right next to one another. It turns out that when the visual array is overcrowded the hands have an even larger influence on product choice. “As visual perception becomes less reliable,” the authors write, “tactile perception assumes a greater role in the recognition of object shape.”

    The second constraint is more personal: it depends on one’s “need for touch,” or how much people like to touch products while shopping. Some people really like to pick products up and feel them, and others don’t. As expected, the scholars find that the hands have much more influence on product choice among those consumers who really like to handle products.

    “These results have direct implications for product and package designers and marketing managers,” Estes concludes. “For one thing, distinctive product shapes like Coca-Cola’s iconic bottle design can provide a powerful source of brand identity and recognition. Second, consumers tend to choose products that are shaped like the things they often hold, like a mobile phone, a wallet, or a computer mouse when shopping online. Product designers could create packages that mimic those commonly held forms, and marketing managers can accentuate this effect of product touch by placing several products near one another, and by encouraging consumers to touch the products on display.”


  3. Study suggests moviegoers’ taste in movies is idiosyncratic and at odds with critics’ preferences

    May 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    Our taste in movies is notably idiosyncratic, and not linked to the demographic traits that studios target, finds new study on film preferences. The work also shows that moviegoers’ ratings are not necessarily in line with those of critics.

    “What we find enjoyable in movies is strikingly subjective — so much so that the industry’s targeting of film goers by broad demographic categories seems off the mark,” says Pascal Wallisch, a clinical assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Projections.

    “Critics may be adept at evaluating films, but that doesn’t mean their assessments will accurately predict how much the public will like what they see,” adds co-author Jake Whritner, a graduate of the Cinema Studies Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and currently part of the Cognitive and Data Science Lab at Rutgers University-Newark.

    Over the past century, filmmakers have sought to control viewers’ attention through different editing and shooting techniques, with the assumption that the audience will respond in the same way.

    However, while neural and attentional processing has been extensively examined, the level of agreement in the appraisal of movies among viewers has not been studied. Similarly, while past research has analyzed the relationship between reviews and box-office success as well as agreement among critics for films, none have explored agreement between critics and the general public.

    To address these questions, the researchers considered more than 200 major motion pictures, taking into account popularity, financial success, and critics’ reviews. They then surveyed over 3,000 participants, asking them to give a rating of how much they liked each of the films in the sample that they had previously seen. The researchers also asked participants to provide demographic information (e.g., age, gender) and whether they consider movie critics’ recommendations in choosing which movies to see.

    Finally, Wallisch and Whritner gathered reviews from 42 publicly accessible critics or rating sites (e.g., IMDb) for each of the films in the sample.

    The results generally showed low levels of correlation in movie preferences among study participants. However, there were some patterns. As the number of jointly seen films increased, so did the correlation of the ratings for such films — at least up to a point. When the number of ratings for a given film reached between 100 and 120, correlation grew to its highest point — but as this number continued to increase, correlation for that film’s ratings began to dip, before spiking up again at around 180 commonly seen films.

    Looking at demographics, the survey showed greater agreement in film ratings among male participants than among females — and this difference between genders was statistically significant. However, agreement among both men and women in films was relatively low. There was also little correlation between movie ratings and age — however, because the overall sample skewed younger, the significance of this result is limited. In general, neither gender nor age had much of an effect on inter-subjective agreement. Overall, the low inter-subjective agreement could account for all the vehement disagreements between people on whether or not a given movie was good: on average, one could expect a 1.25-star difference in disagreement on a scale from 0 to 4 stars.

    Turning to correlations with movie critics, the connection between the ratings of critics and any given participant was no better than the average correlation between participants. Even a critic as well regarded as the late Roger Ebert did no better in predicting how well someone would like a movie than a randomly picked participant in the sample. In contrast, critics agreed with each other relatively strongly. In fact, the best predictor of a critic’s response to a film was that of other critics while the best predictor of a non-critics’ response were the aggregated evaluations of other non-critics such as those on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) — but not the aggregated ratings of critics such as Rotten Tomatoes. So it is not the aggregation of ratings per se that improves predictability, but aggregation of non-critic ratings.

    “Something about being a critic seems to make the recommendations of critics unsuitable for predicting the movie taste of regular people,” the authors conclude. “This study is the first to quantify this in an adequately powered fashion, and it helps to explain why people often perceive critics to be out of touch.

    “There are some people in our sample who are ‘superpredictors’ — they perform as well as the best aggregated non-critic ratings when it comes to predicting average non-critics will like. Short of these exceptional predictors, if someone seeks recommendations about what to see, their best bet is to either consult sites that aggregate individual judgements, or to find other individuals or critics with similar tastes.”


  4. Differences in levels of trust and power can affect buyer-supplier performance

    May 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Mutual trust does not appear on the ledger sheets of buyers and suppliers, but researchers suggest that levels of trust between companies may be an important influence on how they operate and perform.

    “In business settings, we tend to believe that the more that a business trusts the other, that business will be perceived as less opportunistic, in other words, the higher the level of trust, the lower the opportunistic behavior,” said Veronica Villena, assistant professor of supply chain management, Penn State. “In this study, we actually show that it doesn’t work like that. It’s not about the level of trust, though. It’s about the asymmetry, or the difference between the levels of trust.”

    In a study, the researchers, who released their findings in a recent issue of Production and Operations Management, found that trust reduces opportunistic behavior only when both sides have similar levels of trust. However, a buyer or supplier with a higher level of trust than its counterpart is more likely to be perceived as being more opportunistic, not less opportunistic.

    Business experts tend to focus on size differences in firms as the primary driver of opportunism in buyer-supplier relationships. For example, big buyers, which have more employees, larger sales, or both, are perceived as being more likely to take advantage of their smaller-sized suppliers.

    “One example of this might be if you’re a smaller supplier working with a company that has big purchasing power,” said Villena. “Obviously, that company can press the smaller supplier to do things for it. But what if it’s the other way around? These kinds of asymmetries happen all the time.”

    The researchers found that the size asymmetry — and, thus, power asymmetry — influence the perceptions of opportunism. For example, bigger buyers tend to perceive smaller suppliers as less opportunistic while smaller suppliers perceive their bigger buyers as more opportunistic. On the other hand, bigger suppliers are not necessarily perceived as opportunistic by their smaller buyers.

    Suppliers may feel they have more to lose from future dealings than buyers, according to Villena, who worked with Christopher W. Craighead, Dove Professor of Supply Chain Management, University of Tennessee.

    She added that while supply chain management is often viewed as solely a statistical endeavor, soft skills are often required in maintaining buyer and supplier relationships.

    “In supply chain, we particularly talk about the hard skills — the size and power of a firm — and we tend to overlook the soft side, which is trust, reciprocity, interpersonal relationships,” said Villena. “In this case, we show both are important, but the one with the higher impact is these softer skills.”

    The researchers collected survey and archival data from 106 buying companies and their matched suppliers from Spain during 2011 to 2012.

    The survey asked how long the companies worked together and the perception of trust of companies on their counterparts. Questions also asked whether the companies believed their counterparts engaged in opportunistic behaviors, such as hiding information or exaggerating their needs to further their own interests.

    The archival data was collected from the SABI database, which contains business information from companies in Spain and Portugal.


  5. To sell more healthy food, keep it simple

    by Ashley

    From the Journal of Retailing at New York University press release:

    Despite extensive research on how to persuade consumers to improve their diets, academicians have largely failed to present food retailers with easy-to-use suggestions. Brian Wansink, director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab and a leading expert in changing eating behavior, seeks to change this by providing an organizing framework that integrates insights from marketing, nutrition, psychology, public health, and behavioral economics research to suggest dozens of small, low-cost, in-store changes that retailers can use to boost sales of fish versus hamburger and apples instead of candy bars.

    In “Healthy Profits: An Interdisciplinary Retail Framework that Increases the Sales of Healthy Foods,” to be published in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Retailing, Wansink sketches out a health predisposition pyramid – in essence, a hierarchy that places health-vigilant shoppers at the top and health-disinterested shoppers at the base, with so-called health-predisposed shoppers in the middle. He points out that different marketing interventions are more or less successful with each of these groups. For instance, research has shown that shoppers who are most interested in healthy eating are more interested than health-disinterested shoppers in recipe kiosks that might suggest ways to cook fish, whereas candy-free checkout aisles and front-of-store fruit displays attract all categories of shoppers.

    Where, how, and when retailers can best influence shoppers are all areas that call for more research, Wansink points out, and at the same time, the studies that have been done, while providing valuable insights, form no cohesive, actionable plan for retailers. Wansink advocates a comprehensive approach that focuses on making the selection of healthy foods convenient, attractive, and normal (CAN) and provides a retail intervention matrix that organizes key research findings into a sensible pattern that is easy to understand and practical to implement.

    The intervention matrix was put to work in Norway by a large grocery chain seeking to reposition itself around environmentally sustainable fish. All 457 stores in the chain used the traditional marketing mix of altering the variety, packaging, advertising, and price promotions of fish. Over a two-year period, these efforts consistently increased sales by 9 percent. Subsequently, 239 stores added strategies from the intervention matrix; the average increase was 28 percent more fish per transaction than in the first group of stores. “This example shows one way research findings can be extrapolated, organized, and presented in a way that is compelling for managers who have little time or tolerance for ambiguity and nuance,” says Wansink.


  6. Study suggests crowdsourcing creates a ‘win-win situation’

    April 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Concordia University press release:

    From Wikipedia to 99designs, and Google to LEGO, crowdsourcing has changed the way the world does business.

    By partnering with the masses through innovative campaigns, companies can benefit from a vast amount of expertise, enthusiasm and goodwill, rather than from paid labour.

    But what’s in it for the crowd?

    Why do ordinary people sign on to help design or produce a product without much compensation? Why do they volunteer their time and skills to a company that profits? And how can a firm better address the crowd’s needs in order to to maximize value for all involved in the co-creation project?

    Zeynep Arsel, associate professor of marketing at the John Molson School of Business, investigated these questions in a new article published by the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. The article was based on Eric Martineau’s thesis supervised by Arsel at the John Molson School of Business Master of Science Program.

    For the study, Martineau and Arsel looked at two cases: Threadless, a growing company that uses the wisdom of the crowds to produce artistic T-shirts, and a Montreal-based startup that sought to use the same model for fashion accessories.

    The researchers observed participants in the local startup, conducted interviews with community members and carefully monitored online forums to see who was participating and why — as well as what was in it for them.

    Arsel and Martineau then analyzed the similarities and differences between the techniques successfully implemented by Threadless and the startup.

    “Even though the startup ultimately didn’t succeed, our research gave us an invaluable opportunity to understand what works in co-creation projects and what does not,” Arsel says.

    “This allowed us to explain why people participate in co-creation projects and what benefits they receive, other than monetary compensation.”

    Their findings are the first to show that there are four different types of members volunteering in these communities:

    1. Communals build skills and community bonds;

    2. Utilizers join the communities to sharpen their skills without much intention to form social bonds;

    3. Aspirers lack both skills and bonds, but aim to gain more of both;

    4. Tourists are minimally invested in both community and skills and infrequently participate.

    “For some members, the bonds established through these communities matter most. Others simply participate in co-creation projects to sharpen their Photoshop skills or get better at design in general,” Arsel explains.

    She adds that the presence of all four types of members in a collective creativity project is not only essential for the company itself, but also beneficial for other members.

    The researchers found that different kinds of members work together to not only create value for the firm, but also to generate benefits for themselves and other members, such as social connections, status within online communities and improved skills.

    “If companies better understand the value that participants receive and what they get out of this arrangement, they can manage these communities to maximize value for both sides. It’s a win-win situation.”

    Partners in research: This study was funded in part by FQRSC and the Petro Canada Young Innovators Program.


  7. When firms and customers share social responsibility, profits rise but donations can fall

    April 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences press release:

    Firms sharing social responsibility for the social good with customers is generally seen as a win-win – more patronage from socially responsible customers and larger benefits to society. A forthcoming study in the INFORMS journal of Marketing Science, a leading academic marketing journal, however, questions the premise. The study finds that when a firm shares social responsibility with customers by asking them to “pay what you want,” promising a certain percentage of revenues to be donated to charity, consumers respond to whether firms give, but very little to how much they give. A firm only needs to donate very little for customers to open up their wallet – a win for firms, but not for charities and society.

    The study titled “Signaling Virtue: Charitable Behavior under Consumer Elective Pricing,” authored by Minah Jung of NYU, Leif Nelson of University of California at Berkeley, and Uri and Ayelet Gneezy both from University of California at San Diego examine consumer behavior under the broad umbrella of “shared social responsibility” – where firms and consumers take joint responsibility for the social good. They operationalize shared social responsibility creatively as a variant of “pay what you want pricing,” at a major supermarket retailer in which over 27000 customers were offered the option of how much they would pay for the retailer’s reusable shopping bag, when a certain portion of their payment goes to a charity.

    The surprising finding that customers are very sensitive to whether a portion of their payment goes to charity, but seemingly insensitive to how much goes to charity has critical implications for the design of shared social responsibility programs. In the field experiment, customers paid more than twice as much for a reusable shopping bag when told that 1 percent of their payment would go to charity relative to when nothing would be offered to charity. But they did not pay much more when donations increased to 50 percent, 99 percent or even 100 percent. A little charity goes a long way; a lot more does not go any further.

    Digging deeper into this surprising behavior, the researchers found that consumers felt the same level of “warm glow” – the emotional happiness from having done a good deed, irrespective of how much of their money went to a charity. “Consumers feel about the same whether 1 percent or 99 percent of their payment went to charity,” said lead researcher, Jung.

    The authors dub the pattern that consumers are sensitive to whether firms give to charity, but not how much as “scope insensitivity.” Scope sensitivity sounds anodyne, but it is by no means innocuous. Notes Ayelet Gneezy, “It gives firms perverse incentives in how they frame their corporate social responsibility programs. Offering a minimal contribution can increase profit dramatically. But as the charitable contribution increases consumers don’t give more, so profits go down. The most profitable strategy for the firm is to give to charity, but the smallest possible amount.”

    Nelson cautions, “Sharing social responsibility with one’s customers sounds like a sure multiplier for the social good. Not so fast. When all customers care is for the warm glow of giving, sharing responsibility with them may not be the promised manna for the social good.”


  8. The secret to staying motivated

    April 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology press release:

    Have you ever started off well on a new goal such as losing weight or saving more money, only to find that motivation fizzles after a period of time?

    Researchers from the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba have discovered one possible explanation: Our source of motivation changes as we make progress toward a goal. Their findings are available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    In the study investigators predicted that during the early stages of pursuing a goal, participants would be motivated by hopes, aspirations and positive aspects of reaching their desired outcome. For example, people who wanted to lose 20 pounds would imagine their appearance at a desired weight, buying new clothes and feeling more energy. This is known as a “promotion motivation,” and people in this mindset are motivated by positive things they can to do make progress, such as exercising more and eating more fruits and vegetables.

    As people drew closer to reaching their goals, however, the researchers predicted that people would switch to a “prevention motivation” mindset. Now they would be motivated by their responsibilities, duties and the desire to avoid something negative. People trying to lose 20 pounds might think about the disappointment of possibly falling short of the weight loss goal or not fitting into a coveted piece of clothing. They would start focusing on things to avoid doing wrong, such as steering clear of dessert and a sedentary lifestyle.

    The researchers conducted five experiments, and found that their prediction was correct: motivation switched from promotion to prevention as study participants made progress on their goals.

    “Generally speaking, people in North America are predominantly promotion-focused, so they are good at starting goals, but not as good at accomplishing them,” says Olya Bullard, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and lead author of the study. “My hope is that these findings will help people attain their goals.”

    The results of the study suggest that people may have better luck sustaining motivation in the late stages if they focus on what to avoid in order to reach their goals. For those who are trying to save money for a house or a trip, for example, initially it may work to pursue positive saving strategies like getting a higher paying job or investing money. Later in the process, focus on avoidance strategies like going out to dinner less often or forgoing expensive purchases.

    These findings also have implications for marketers, Bullard says. Companies can frame their advertisements based on whether consumers are in early or later stages of pursuing their goals. For example, a gym catering to people who are just starting to get in shape could emphasize the exciting opportunities and latest fitness technology at the gym that will help members achieve their aspirations. On the other hand, an ad for a gym catering for people well on their way to reaching a fitness goal could emphasize safe and proven technologies that will secure expectations for fitness and offer “satisfaction” guarantees.


  9. Facebook ‘likes’ don’t work like marketers think they do

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Tulane University press release:

    Social media managers who think that simply building up followers on Facebook is enough to boost a brand’s sales may not “like” a new Tulane University study featured in Harvard Business Review.

    Turns out, Facebook likes don’t work the way most brand managers think. Likes alone don’t drive purchases. If companies want to convert social media fans into more active customers, they have to engage them with advertising, said lead author Daniel Mochon, assistant professor of marketing at A. B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University.

    “When we think of Facebook, we think of it as a very social platform. Most companies think that those social interactions will lead to more customer loyalty and more profitable customers,” Mochon said. “That’s not necessarily the case. Customers rarely post on a brand’s page on their own and typically only see a fraction of a brand’s Facebook content unless they are targeted with paid advertising”

    Mochon, Janet Schwartz, Tulane assistant professor of marketing and Dan Ariely of Duke University worked with Karen Johnson, deputy general manager of Discovery Health, to design a study using the Facebook page of the insurance company’s wellness program Discovery Vitality. Consumers can earn points for engaging in healthful behaviors, such as exercising, and redeem those points into rewards.

    The team wanted to find out if getting customers to like Vitality’s page would spur them to earn more health points. They invited new customers to take a survey and randomly invited them to like Vitality’s Facebook page. Those who weren’t invited served as a control group.

    The team monitored both groups for four months and found no difference in reward points earned, suggesting that liking the page and being involved in its social community weren’t enough to change behavior. Vitality then paid Facebook to display two posts per week to the liking group for two months. That group earned 8 percent more reward points than those in the control group.

    Authors suspect that the ads were effective because they were more likely to reach customers. Facebook’s algorithm filters content by users’ preferences and activities. When a company posts content, there’s no guarantee it will make it into their followers’ timeline unless it’s boosted content.

    “To our knowledge this is the first causal demonstration of the effect of Facebook page liking on customer behavior — specifically behavior that takes place offline,” Schwartz said. “The results suggest that Facebook pages are most effective when they are used as a form of traditional advertising rather than as a platform for social interactions.”

    The full study, “What are likes worth? A Facebook page field experiment,” is online and pending publication in the Journal of Marketing Research.


  10. How your brain makes articles go viral

    March 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    It is a question that has mystified countless people: Why does one article spread like wildfire through social media and another — seemingly similar — doesn’t? How does your brain decide what is valuable enough to read and share?

    Christin Scholz and Elisa Baek, both students in the Ph.D. program at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, are the lead authors behind two new research papers that document for the first time the specific brain activity that leads us to read or share articles — in this case, health articles from the New York Times. And by looking at this specific pattern of brain activity in 80 people, they also were able to predict the virality of these articles among real New York Times readers around the world.

    Fundamentally, explains Emily Falk, Ph.D., senior author on both papers and the director of Penn’s Communication Neuroscience Lab, specific regions of the brain determine how valuable it would be to share information, and that value translates to its likelihood of going viral.

    “People are interested in reading or sharing content that connects to their own experiences, or to their sense of who they are or who they want to be,” she says. “They share things that might improve their relationships, make them look smart or empathic or cast them in a positive light.”

    By using fMRI, the researchers were able to measure people’s brain activity in real time as they viewed the headlines and abstracts of 80 New York Times health articles and rated how likely they were to read and share them. The articles were chosen for their similarity of subject matter — nutrition, fitness, healthy living — and number of words.

    The researchers honed in on regions of the brain associated with self-related thinking, regions associated with mentalizing — imagining what others might think — and with overall value.

    Although it might be intuitive to expect people would think about themselves in deciding what to read personally and think about others in deciding what to share, the researchers found something else: Whether they were choosing to read for themselves or deciding what to recommend to others, the neural data suggest that people think about both themselves and others.

    In fact, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, that thinking about what to share brought out the highest levels of activity in both of these neural systems.

    “When you’re thinking about what to read yourself and about what to share, both are inherently social, and when you’re thinking socially, you’re often thinking about yourself and your relationships to others,” says Baek. “Your self-concept and understanding of the social world are intertwined.”

    A second study, to be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows how these brain signals can be used to predict virality of the same news articles around the world.

    When stories go viral through the 4 billion Facebook messages, 500 million tweets and 200 billion emails shared daily, they can have real impact on our health, politics and society. But not all articles are shared equally. Why do some articles get shared while others don’t?

    By looking at brain activity as 80 test subjects considered sharing the same New York Times health articles, researchers predicted an article’s virality among the actual New York Times readership, which shared this group of articles a combined total of 117,611 times.

    They found that activity in the self-related and mentalizing regions of the brain combine unconsciously in our minds to produce an overall signal about an article’s value. That value signal then predicts whether or not we want to share.

    Even though the pool of test subjects — 18-to-24-year olds, many of them university students, living around Philadelphia — represented different demographics than the overall New York Times readership, brain activity in key brain regions that track value accurately scaled with the global popularity of the articles.

    “If we can use a small number of brains to predict what large numbers of people who read the New York Times are doing, it means that similar things are happening across people,” Scholz says. “The fact that the articles strike the same chord in different brains suggests that similar motivations and similar norms may be driving these behaviors. Similar things have value in our broader society.”

    Scholz acknowledges that exactly how we’re thinking about ourselves and others varies from person to person. For example, one person may think that an article will make her friends laugh, while another may think that sharing it will help his friend solve a particular problem. But neural activity in regions associated with the self and with social considerations serves as a type of common denominator for various types of social and self-related thinking.

    “In practice, if you craft a message in a way that makes the reader understand how it’s going to make them look positive, or how it could enhance a relationship,” Scholz says, “then we predict it would increase the likelihood of sharing that message.”