Neurotriumph: Teen Song Popularity Prediction

Is this the greatest triumph of 21st century neuroscience? A new study sings of the persuasive power of fMRI studies, and of the emerging consensus that, one way or another, they are good for business [also see 1st bonus item below, about a related book]. reports the news:

Teen brains predict song popularity

“We have scientifically demonstrated that you can, to some extent, use neuroimaging in a group of people to predict cultural popularity,” says Gregory Berns [pictured here], a neuroeconomist at Emory University…. “When we plotted the data on a graph, we found a ‘sweet spot’ for sales of 20,000 units,” Berns says. The brain responses could predict about one-third of the songs that would eventually go on to sell more than 20,000 units.”

The study itself is:

A neural predictor of cultural popularity“, Gregory S. Berns and Sara E. Moore, Journal of Consumer Psychology, epub June 8, 2011.The authors, at the Economics Department and Center for Neuropolicy, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, explain:

“We use neuroimaging to predict cultural popularity — something that is popular in the broadest sense and appeals to a large number of individuals. Neuroeconomic research suggests that activity in reward-related regions of the brain, notably the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum, is predictive of future purchasing decisions, but it is unknown whether the neural signals of a small group of individuals are predictive of the purchasing decisions of the population at large. For neuroimaging to be useful as a measure of widespread popularity, these neural responses would have to generalize to a much larger population that is not the direct subject of the brain imaging itself. Here, we test the possibility of using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to predict the relative popularity of a common good: music. We used fMRI to measure the brain responses of a relatively small group of adolescents while listening to songs of largely unknown artists. As a measure of popularity, the sales of these songs were totaled for the three years following scanning, and brain responses were then correlated with these ‘future’ earnings. Although subjective likability of the songs was not predictive of sales, activity within the ventral striatum was significantly correlated with the number of units sold. These results suggest that the neural responses to goods are not only predictive of purchase decisions for those individuals actually scanned, but such responses generalize to the population at large and may be used to predict cultural popularity.”

BONUS: Professor Berns is Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics and Director of the Center for Neuropolicy. His web page reports about one of his books:

Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently. Recently published by Harvard Business Press (2008) and named by Fast Company as one of the 10 best business books of 2008.

BONUS: Science Now reports on the study: “Can Brain Scans Predict Music Sales?