Today I read about an invention that has the potential to help depressed patients who are otherwise resistant to drug and cognitive therapy. Depression is an increasingly common problem in the western world and the usual approach these days is to treat with anti-depressant medication, mostly likely including a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. The reasons depression is on the rise are many-fold but include increasing social isolation as well as more refined diagnostic procedures and more definitive descriptors of the disease that allow wider diagnosis. The new machine is called the NeuroStar and promises relief after a series of 4 hour sessions of brain stimulation. can a machine go where our trusted medicines cannot? What about advertising? After the Super Bowl on February 3rd the Today show had a stint on MRI imaging during the famous Super Bowl commercials. Compared with subjective assessments of how well the audience liked the commercials, the recorded brain waves in a test set of subject showed a close correlation with brain activity and stated likes. In other word, the brains did not betray the consumer. In one ad. for Dorritos, the empathy and longing centers of the brain lit up like Christmas lights as a young male driver crashed his car while looking longingly at a beautiful girl holding a giant bag of Dorrito chips. She runs to his aid, only to fall on her face just before she gets to the car. The signs spicy’, bold’, crunchy’ (as he squishes the bag as his face smashes into the steering wheel) flash up at appropriate moments. The ad. is a success in more ways that one-it took 5 kids and only $12 to make.
In other recent studies, MRI is being used to determine whether people really want what they say they want. In these studies it seems our brains may indeed betray us. While we might say we like to see pictures of landscapes and garden, our brains say we much prefer the pictures of spring break. Our underlying urges spark a characteristic flare that cannot avoid detection by the non-invasive’ but perhaps ultimately uber-invasive , MRI.
What does this mean for the future of advertising, or indeed the future of market research? What does it mean for medicine if we are going back to physical interventions to health diseases of the mind?
We are entering a brave new world where the value of integral approaches to physical, spiritual, pharmacological understanding will become necessary to make sense of all that our technologies allows us to see. The age of over-reductionism that drove our science over the past half century, must surely now be declared dead.