December 3, 2019
[Background music] Self-reporting surveys are a widely used tool for research across many disciplines.
Surveys of focus groups are used to predict the success of new TV shows, ad campaigns,
new products and even public health interventions. We’re often asked to rate our likelihood of
using product X as 1) highly likely, 2) somewhat likely, 3) somewhat unlikely or 4) not very
likely. But how good are we really at predicting our
future behavior, let alone the future behavior of the greater population?
It turns out that we are not very good at predicting how we will behave, because we
aren’t always aware of why we do the things we do.
Now, just because we may not be consciously aware of the reasons underlying our behavior,
doesn’t mean that our behavior isn’t predictable. On the contrary, research in neuroscience
has demonstrated that brain activity is a very dependable predictor of behavior.
Using functional MRI, neuroscientists are able to map the areas of the brain that respond
to different types of stimuli. Advancements in neuroscience have mapped the
regions of the brain that respond to reward and the regions that respond to pain.
As it turns out, the same regions that are activated in response to positive physical
rewards, such as delicious foods, are also activated in response to positive social rewards,
such as praise. The level of response in these regions is
affected by our underlying biology and differences in our genes.
This activity in our brain has been shown to be a good predictor of our individual responses
to ad campaigns and our likelihood of conforming to social norms. Brain activity can even predict
whether or not we’ll pass on a message through social media.
Recent studies have also shown that brain activity is not only an excellent predictor
of our own individual behavior, but also a better predictor of a representative population’s
behavior than the traditional survey or focus group responses.
So directly measuring brain activity is a new way to survey our underlying motivations.
As the field of neuroscience rapidly expands, the integration of brain imaging with the
study of the genetics that underlie brain function will complement the use of traditional
behavioral surveys in helping us to better understand human behavior. [Background music]