This Is Your Guest Editor on Brains

New models for a new media landscape

The idea that human beings are passive consumers of media content and advertising that can be transformed into "rational" actors who behave predictably in efficient markets is dead.  We know now that people are far more complex, adapting to a dynamic and rapidly evolving world that is being transformed all the time because of media. Just consider that in the time it took for you to read those two sentences, billions of new impressions of media content were created and distributed across a global array of media platforms vying for the attention of billions of people. Billions of complex and complicated brains are also an active part of the process, choosing what we want, when we want it and how we want it, and increasingly, adding directly to the flow of media content ourselves.

And if that doesn't seem chaotic enough, we don't just make those decisions consciously, but are also influenced by media emotionally - reacting to it and interacting with in in ways we are only just beginning to understand. Those are the reasons I began researching doctor/patient communications early in my medical career. They are the reasons I founded Innerscope: to see if we could apply that science to understanding the relationship between consumers, media and brands. And they are the reasons I agreed to guest edit this issue of MEDIA magazine. Fundamentally, it is all about communication. And understanding how we communicate.

We have entered a Golden Age of neuroscience that has only recently been applied to the science of media. The new models, informed in part by our growing understanding of the human brain, appropriately view communications as "stimuli" and the "flow of information."  These stimuli have both structure and content, processed by consumers not only on the rational and conscious level, but perhaps more importantly, on the unconscious and emotional levels.

Advances in the technologies, techniques and knowledge arising from the field of neuroscience have provided us with new insights regarding the functioning of the brain, how it processes information and the power of emotions to influence complex behaviors.  The tools of neuroscience offer a literal window inside the black box of the brain, allowing us to examine what is going on at both a structural and functional level. 

Neuroscience teaches a number of important lessons, not the least of which is the importance of emotions in media including: 

1. emotional centers of the brain process information prior to cognitive areas, and exert significant influences on subsequent cognitive processes;

2. emotional processing plays a powerful role in directing attention, determining the depth of processing, and influencing the formation of memories; and

3. many aspects of information processing and learning occur automatically without direct awareness and involve relatively distinct areas of the brain separate from language centers, complicating the ability of consumers and audiences to report accurately their experiences. 

The power of these and other lessons from neuroscience has attracted the attention of advertising and marketing researchers eager to apply these new principles and techniques to further their pursuits.  In fact, appreciation of neuroscience among advertisers has led to the emergence of a new field often referred to as "neuromarketing."  However, neuromarketing, the application of neuroscience to market research, is not without its share of challenges and skeptics.  The field is often portrayed in either overly idealized and fanciful terms, suggesting a panacea for all that ails us, or in overly harsh and critical terms, suggesting no value at all.  This leads to a rather unfortunate "either-or" dichotomy with neuroscience and its tools as either useful or not.  This view is shortsighted.  For the question is not "if" neuroscience will influence the future of media.  The question is how soon and how impactful will that influence be? 

The direct application of the findings from neuroscience to media has been relatively slow, but progress is forthcoming with new models of consumer response at all points along their media experience evolving rapidly.

This issue of MEDIA magazine is designed to push these new models forward and open the black box of the brain toward new audiences in a language and format that is both engaging and informative.  So please read on, think out of the box and if you will, open your mind.

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