The Neuroimaging of Persuasion: Selling Babies

800px-Baby_playsaucer.jpgI’ve argued (here, here, & here) that there is a gap between how jurists generally imagine that consumers behave (and should be protected) and the technological tools available to clever marketers. The slogan I’ve come up with is total persuasion: “a society in which most speech that you hear is designed to persuade you to consume.”

Today’s W$J offers an interesting article along this line. According to researchers at Oxford, we’re hard-wired to respond to baby faces in positive ways:

Using a technique called magneto-encephalography that measures brain signals, the Oxford researchers found that a baby’s face can seize our attention in milliseconds, activating an unusual mental organ called the fusiform gyrus that responds to human faces. Moreover, these distinctive infant features, unlike the mature features of an adult, trigger a sense of reward and good feeling in a seventh of a second. Picture Bambi’s saucer-size eyes or those of Mickey Mouse.

And from later in the article:

Through brain-scanning experiments, researchers have located the neurochemical essence of our face expertise in a strip of temporal-lobe tissue about two inches long and three-quarters of an inch wide. Studying this face recognition area in macaque monkeys, neurobiologist Doris Tsao at the University of Bremen, Germany, reported in Science that the tissue consisted almost entirely of neurons that responded just to faces.

To understand how the tissue develops, Yoichi Sugita at Japan’s Neuroscience Research Institute raised infant monkeys for two years without ever showing them a face. Lab workers wore hoods. When faces were finally revealed to them, the monkeys could readily tell them apart, Dr. Sugita reported in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It is mind-blowing,” Dr. Kanwisher said. “If you had to bet, you would bet it is innate.”

What can/should the law do about these findings, which, after all, confirm common intuitions. See Steven Jay Gould’s A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse, in The Panda’s Thumb.

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1 Response

  1. “What can/should the law do about these findings, which, after all, confirm common intuitions”

    The law should do nothing.