Frontlines | Selling Directly to the Mind

Erica P. Johnson

You see a sweater for sale and think, "I have to have that!" Clint Kilts wants to know why.

Kilts, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, is investigating the underlying neural organization that governs personal preferences and the decision-making process. Regarding a product, there's not a lot of conscious deliberation, he says. People decide quickly whether they like something.

Kilts and scientists at BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences in Atlanta asked people to look at ads of familiar products and to envision themselves using them. Meanwhile, researchers scanned the subjects' brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging. They determined that neural activity increased in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain region linked to self-identity, when people saw products that promoted a positive personal response. They observed activity in different brain areas when subjects viewed products...

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