On neuromarketing.

From PBs’ Frontline/Douglas Rushkoff “The Persuaders” website:

��For an ad campaign that started a revolution in marketing, the Pepsi Challenge TV spots of the 1970s and ’80s were almost absurdly simple. Little more than a series of blind taste tests, these ads showed people being asked to choose between Pepsi and Coke without knowing which one they were consuming. Not surprisingly, given the sponsor, Pepsi was usually the winner.

But 30 years after the commercials debuted, neuroscientist Read Montague was still thinking about them. Something didn’t make sense. If people preferred the taste of Pepsi, the drink should have dominated the market. It didn’t. So in the summer of 2003, Montague gave himself a ‘Pepsi Challenge’ of a different sort: to figure out why people would buy a product they didn’t particularly like.

What he found was the first data from an entirely new field: neuromarketing, the study of the brain’s responses to ads, brands, and the rest of the messages littering the cultural landscape. Montague had his subjects take the Pepsi Challenge while he watched their neural activity with a functional MRI machine, which tracks blood flow to different regions of the brain. Without knowing what they were drinking, about half of them said they preferred Pepsi. But once Montague told them which samples were Coke, three-fourths said that drink tasted better, and their brain activity changed too. Coke “lit up” the medial prefrontal cortex — a part of the brain that controls higher thinking. Montague’s hunch was that the brain was recalling images and ideas from commercials, and the brand was overriding the actual quality of the product. For years, in the face of failed brands and laughably bad ad campaigns, marketers had argued that they could influence consumers’ choices. Now, there appeared to be solid neurological proof. Montague published his findings in the October 2004 issue of Neuron, and a cottage industry was born.

Neuromarketing, in one form or another, is now one of the hottest new tools of its trade. At the most basic levels, companies are starting to sift through the piles of psychological literature that have been steadily growing since the 1990s’ boom in brain-imaging technology. Surprisingly few businesses have kept tabs on the studies – until now. “Most marketers don’t take a single class in psychology. A lot of the current communications projects we see are based on research from the ’70s,” says Justine Meaux, a scientist at Atlanta’s BrightHouse Neurostrategies Group, one of the first and largest neurosciences consulting firms. “Especially in these early years, it’s about teaching people the basics. What we end up doing is educating people about some false assumptions about how the brain works.”

Getting an update on research is one thing; for decades, marketers have relied on behavioral studies for guidance. But some companies are taking the practice several steps further, commissioning their own fMRI studies ?� la Montague’s test. In a study of men’s reactions to cars, Daimler-Chrysler has found that sportier models activate the brain’s reward centers — the same areas that light up in response to alcohol and drugs — as well as activating the area in the brain that recognizes faces, which may explain people’s tendency to anthropomorphize their cars. Steven Quartz, a scientist at Stanford University, is currently conducting similar research on movie trailers. And in the age of poll-taking and smear campaigns, political advertising is also getting in on the game. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have found that Republicans and Democrats react differently to campaign ads showing images of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Those ads cause the part of the brain associated with fear to light up more vividly in Democrats than in Republicans.

That last piece of research is particularly worrisome to anti-marketing activists, some of whom are already mobilizing against the nascent field of neuromarketing. Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a non-profit that argues for strict regulations on advertising, says that “a year ago almost nobody had heard of neuromarketing except for Forbes readers.” Now, he says, it’s everywhere, and over the past year he has waged a campaign against the practice, lobbying Congress and the American Psychological Association (APA) and threatening lawsuits against BrightHouse and other practitioners. Even though he admits the research is still “in the very preliminary stages,” he says it could eventually lead to complete corporate manipulation of consumers — or citizens, with governments using brain scans to create more effective propaganda.

Ruskin might be consoled by the fact that many neuromarketers still don’t know how to apply their findings. Increased activity in the brain doesn’t necessarily mean increased preference for a product. And, says Meaux, no amount of neuromarketing research can transform otherwise rational people into consumption-driven zombies. “Of course we’re all influenced by the messages around us,” she says. “That doesn’t take away free choice.” As for Ruskin, she says tersely, “there is no grounds for what he is accusing.” So far, the regulatory boards agree with her: the government has decided not to investigate BrightHouse and the APA’s most recent ethics statement said nothing about neuromarketing. Says Ruskin: “It was a total defeat for us.”

With Commercial Alert’s campaign thwarted for now, BrightHouse is moving forward. In January, the company plans to start publishing a neuroscience newsletter aimed at businesses. And although it “doesn’t conduct fMRI studies except in the rarest of cases,” it is getting ready to publish the results of a particularly tantalizing set of tests. While neuroscientist Montague’s ‘Pepsi Challenge’ suggests that branding appears to make a difference in consumer preference, BrightHouse’s research promises to show exactly how much emotional impact that branding can have. Marketers have long known that some brands have a seemingly magic appeal; they can elicit strong devotion, with buyers saying they identify with the brand as an extension of their personalities. The BrightHouse research is expected to show exactly which products those are. “This is really just the first step,” says Meaux, who points out that no one has discovered a “buy button” in the brain. But with more and more companies peering into the minds of their consumers, could that be far off?


"An astronomer with a Jungian streak…"

Skywatchers, Shamans & Kings : Astronomy and the Archaeology of Power

by E. C. Krupp

From Publishers Weekly
An astronomer with a Jungian streak, Krupp (Echoes of the Ancient Sky), the director of the Griffith Observatory in L.A., synthesizes the study of the heavens with archeology in an intriguing attempt to understand the cultural power of shamans and kings in ancient civilizations. In the tradition of Frazer, Eliade and Campbell, the author seeks commonality in the use of sky myths by shamans from cultures as diverse as the Mayan, Egyptian, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, Turkic, African and Inuit, as well as those of the indigenous peoples of the American plains, Northwest and Southwest. Carefully analyzing sacred petroglyphs, pictographs and statuary, he traces the evolution of culture from hunting bands to the establishment of complex civilizations. The journey includes study of the natural high places of the earth, which direct human awe heavenward toward the sky gods. Alternately, the chthonic depths of caves and grottoes are examined for insight into the traditions of nurturing mother goddesses and fertility cults. Throughout, reference to ancient awareness of the movement of the planets and constellations, especially in regard to the solstices and equinoxes, is highlighted. With an anecdotal style and with reference to myriad illustrations, Krupp enngagingly explores the historic derivation of political control descending from the skies, to rulers. The harmonics of order implicit in the structure of the cosmos, he forcefully contends, are endangered by contemporary reactionary, earthbound cultures, engendering conflicts that are expressed in rising social intolerance and religious fundamentalism.


"I'm just an insane idealist who is fighting windmills."

From the Nov 7, 2004 New York Times:

Where the Theater Is a Kibbutz, and the Kibbutz Is a Theater<br


PLENTY of theater companies may profess as much, but the Double Edge Theater company truly believes that art is life. On the Farm, the group’s 105-acre estate in Ashfield, Mass., the company has built the dramatic equivalent of a kibbutz: an intimate, utopian and self-sustaining community, where its seven members live and work together, integrating their onstage and offstage lives.

The group, which is just finishing its New York debut at La MaMa E.T.C. with “The UnPossessed” – a play (very) loosely based on “Don Quixote” – is the creation of Stacy Klein, who founded the company in 1982 and then moved it to Ashfield, a half-hour north of Amherst, in 1994. Living here, she said, allows the group to “rehearse based on our creativity and not on our schedule.”

By joining the company, the members free themselves from prosaic distractions — say, holding down a paying job. “We are self-sufficient in that we can house all of our people, so we don’t need to have these huge jobs outside of the theater in order to pay for an apartment for each of us,” Ms. Klein said. “We can get as many vegetables as we can get off the farm.”

Ms. Klein trained with a student of the renowned Polish director and theorist Jerzy Grotowski, one of the most important figures in avant-garde theater. “The Grotowski connection is like a tribe of theater,” Ms. Klein explained, that views the actor as an creative artist in his own right, and “not as a puppet of the director or the designer.”

Erasing the line between work and home life can sometimes be trying, even for the initiated. “Who we are upstairs,” in the performance space, said Richard Newman, who has been living with Double Edge for about a year, “informs who we are in our daily life, but they’re not necessarily the same things. Some people I work with really well in the space, but in my daily life — cooking or doing farm things — I can’t really deal with them. It’s very difficult sometimes. It’s not bad, necessarily; it’s more interesting.”

Hayley Brown, who has also been at the Farm for about a year, agreed: “It’s certainly difficult, but I think it makes the work more powerful. It seems that the more time we spend here, the more your life and your work are the same thing, and everything about your life can be put into your work, and everything about your work can apply to your life.”

The members have been rehearsing “The UnPossessed” in the large barn that serves as a living and performance space. The show’s circuslike imagery and spectacle are evidence of the group’s fascination with street theater in South America.

After rehearsal comes daily training. The nine actors onstage (including the four interns who are working with Double Edge this fall) face one another in a circle and trade movements. Afterward, they work alone or in pairs or threes, balancing, rolling, hopping, running.

“The goals of the group training,” explained Carlos Uriona, Ms. Klein’s collaborator and the actor who plays Don Quixote, “are to tap energy, to develop endurance and strength, and to find power,” and, he added, to rid themselves of the “daily masks” that people wear.

Mr. Uriona described the group’s progress so far: “Have you ever spun yourself around to make yourself dizzy? If you try to control yourself, you get into trouble. The more you let yourself go, the better it is. That’s where we are now.”

Ms. Klein created “The UnPossessed” after 9/11. “I was feeling like I was a fool to try to keep this enterprise going, and the whole idea of art going, when people would rather be at war and fighting,” she said. “And so immediately we started thinking about ‘Quixote.’ I remember saying to Carlos one day, ‘I feel like Quixote.’ I’m just an insane idealist who is fighting windmills.”


From the Nov 21 Los Angeles Times:

Around the country, the Pacer-Piston brawl was replayed so often, Clemson football Coach Tommy Bowden blamed it for a 10-minute altercation between Clemson and South Carolina players Saturday.

“For 24 hours they’ve watched that basketball fiasco on TV. That’s all they’ve watched,” Bowden said. “On every major news [broadcast] that thing was covered, and they sat there and watched it and watched it and watched it.”

"There is something contradictory about striving to put fresh-faced men and women into the inferno of Iraq…"

From the Nov 21 Los Angeles Times:

….With his laptop, [Army recruiter] Hill shows recruits the Army’s sexy new recruiting DVD: high-adrenaline rock music in sync with soldiers rappelling down mountains and parachuting out of planes. Most recruits are more interested in Hill’s screensaver, a photo of him storming into Baghdad with the first U.S. troops. Nearly every recruit asks, and sometimes Hill tells them his stories, describes what it was like to sleep on the floor of Saddam Hussein’s palace.

…He doesn’t tell them what it was like to have his tank hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and then to have the tank tumble into the Euphrates River. He doesn’t tell them about the shrapnel in both his legs, or the 38 friends he lost in battle ‚Äî including one who committed suicide, a man whose memory makes Hill’s eyes well with tears. He doesn’t tell them about the 30 rolls of film he took in Iraq, which he still can’t bring himself to develop. He doesn’t tell recruits about a day not long after he got home, when he was walking in the park with his 12-year-old son. A car backfired, and Hill dove into a ditch, where he lay cowering, suffering from tunnel vision and paralysis until his son phoned Hill’s wife and told her there was something wrong with Daddy.

“I’m glad he didn’t touch me,” Hill says. “Because I might’ve hurt him if he had.”

Hill keeps those things to himself, not because he’s afraid of scaring off recruits, but because he doesn’t yet feel comfortable sharing them with strangers.

There is something contradictory about striving to put fresh-faced men and women into the inferno of Iraq, and Hill acknowledges it, but only barely, because he lives inside the contradiction: He longs to return to Iraq. Most of the soldiers with whom he came home are soon being redeployed, and Hill wishes he were going with them. But the Army, he says, needs him here.