Facebook brain activation - visual cortex (photo by Marc Van Rymenant)
First, we had the fictitious Neurology of Twitter study, sponsored by The Neurocritic. Now it appears there's been an actual (unpublished) fMRI study of viewing Facebook pages, conducted by Netway, a neuromarketing firm.
A global premiere: travel in the mind of Facebook usersI would retort that it's not possible to answer those questions by examining fMRI results alone. Eye tracking and user behavior are essential. And the danger of extrapolating user experience from the pattern of brain activity? The logical fallacy of reverse inference, flogged repeatedly on this blog. One cannot directly infer the participants' cognitive or emotional state from the observed pattern of brain activity in neuroimaging experiments (Aguirre, 2003; Poldrack, 2006).
In the digital world, where business results are ever more top of the list, user experience is one of the key factors of success.. . .In plain English: we can see which zones of the brain are activated when a user is performing a task. If we can identify the activated zones of the brain, we also know the answer to the following questions:
And if we do that, we can objectively measure the user experience.
- Doesn’t the screen have too many elements?
- Which parts of the screen are analysed the most by the brain?
- Do users recognize the used visuals?
- Do the call-to-action elements incite action?
- Do users understand the content?
Let's examine some of Netway's conclusions. From looking at the figure above, they say:
In the case of Facebook we see the right visual cortex has a higher level of activation. This indicates the visual elements at the left side of the interface generate more brain activity than the right-side elements.That generally happens if the density of visual stimuli in the left visual field is greater than in the right visual field, or if there is some difference in basic perceptual features. You don't need fMRI to tell you that. Commenter Theo Vosse explains further:
Sorry, but this is nonsense. Even the low-level visual analysis is wrong. That there is more activity in one part of the visual cortex than in another only means that there is a difference in contrast, color or brightness between the left and right sides. Furthermore, since fMRI is pretty slow, this is averaged over the different places of focus, so it might just mean that people focus more on one side of the monitor than on the other. Or something completely different. You can’t tell, because you have no proper baseline.Then we hear a bit about the dorsal ("where" pathway) and ventral ("what" pathway) visual streams. But Netway really goes awry and starts reading tea leaves when they reach the prefrontal cortex.
Facebook brain activation - semantic activation (photo by Marc Van Rymenant)
There is absolutely no evidence for such a distinction between these two regions of the inferior frontal gyrus (not that it's entirely clear what was meant here). BA44 is activated by strong semantic associations and BA45 by weak semantic associations? That is nonsense... Neuromarketing companies do not have to subject their studies to peer review, and in fact it's detrimental to expose their proprietary methods. So buyer beware! But if corporations want to pay for such tenuous insights, I can't feel too sorry for them.
The Brodmann 44 zone is involved in recovering information in our semantic memory. This means a surfer watches the elements and this system will activate a network of knowledge about a certain word or an object.
The information that is recovered in the long-term memory during a Facebook site visit activates the semantic network. People will know what they see and that activates a set of linked information (I know this person, it is a friend of…, …).
We see the Brodmann 45 zone is not activated. If this had been the case, it would have meant the recovered information didn’t activate strong associations. That would mean the content is not very well known or not very often used by our brain.
Aguirre GK (2003). Functional Imaging in Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Neuropsychology. In: T.E. Feinberg & M.J. Farah (Eds.), Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Neuropsychology. New York: McGraw Hill.
Poldrack RA (2006). Can cognitive processes be inferred from neuroimaging data? Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10: 59-63.
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