Brain Scans Predict Music Sales

In 2007, Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist at Emory University in Atlanta, studied the neural mechanisms of peer pressure by looking at how teenager’s perceptions

In 2007, Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist at Emory University in Atlanta, studied the neural mechanisms of peer pressure by looking at how teenager’s perceptions of a song’s popularity affected their rating of that song. One of the songs used in the study was “Apologize,” by OneRepublic—an unsigned and relatively unknown band. A few years later, “Apologize,” became a hit, and Berns decided to find out why. The team compared the band’s record sales to the fMRI brain scans of the 27 adolescents they had used in the peer pressure study. During a 15-second clip of the song, two regions stood out: the orbitofrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens. These regions are both strongly linked to reward and anticipation. They found that activity in these two brain regions averaged across subjects for each song, and correlated with song sales. Interestingly enough, the researchers also realized that the brain scan data predicted commercial success better than the likeability ratings selected by the test subjects. This has led some scientists to believe that activity in the nucleus accumbens may be a more pure indicator of what people really like and want; an indicator unencumbered by economic and social pressures. While the findings are an exciting advancement for neuromarketing, some scientists claim it’s still a “long way from being a viable marketing tool.”

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