From neural responses to population behavior: neural focus group predicts population-level media effects

Psychol Sci. 2012 May 1;23(5):439-45. doi: 10.1177/0956797611434964. Epub 2012 Apr 17.


Can neural responses of a small group of individuals predict the behavior of large-scale populations? In this investigation, brain activations were recorded while smokers viewed three different television campaigns promoting the National Cancer Institute's telephone hotline to help smokers quit (1-800-QUIT-NOW). The smokers also provided self-report predictions of the campaigns' relative effectiveness. Population measures of the success of each campaign were computed by comparing call volume to 1-800-QUIT-NOW in the month before and the month after the launch of each campaign. This approach allowed us to directly compare the predictive value of self-reports with neural predictors of message effectiveness. Neural activity in a medial prefrontal region of interest, previously associated with individual behavior change, predicted the population response, whereas self-report judgments did not. This finding suggests a novel way of connecting neural signals to population responses that has not been previously demonstrated and provides information that may be difficult to obtain otherwise.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Health Communication / methods
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Hotlines
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Marketing of Health Services / methods*
  • Mass Media*
  • Middle Aged
  • National Cancer Institute (U.S.)
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Smoking
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology*
  • Television*
  • United States