Study: Brain activity can ID potential buyers


Brandon McFadden


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Brain activation may reveal people who are less certain about a product and indicate they are more easily swayed by an ad, a University of Florida researcher says.

In a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that activation of the prefrontal cortex of the brain identifies people who are more responsive to campaign advertisements.

Studies in social sciences, including agricultural economics, often rely on survey data, which counts on participants’ honesty. But tracking blood flow in the brain gives much more tried-and-true data, said Brandon McFadden, a UF assistant professor of food and resource economics and one of the researchers for the study. This study may help researchers understand brain function while people decide what to buy, he said.

“This allows us to peek behind the curtain,” McFadden said.

Researchers already know the prefrontal cortex helps humans make decisions. The question for this study was: Could activation in that part of the brain reveal people who are more responsive to campaign advertisements prior to viewing the advertisement?

The short answer: Yes. Higher variations in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex indicated less certainty about purchasing decisions, said McFadden, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member.

The paper stems from an experiment McFadden helped conduct while a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University. McFadden was part of a team that included researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas State University.

The 44 study participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. Specifically, this form of MRI measured blood flow and determined brain activity while making purchasing decisions about eggs.

The issue arose in the wake of the 2008 campaign for Proposition 2 in California, which was aimed at some production standards considered to be inhumane in California, including caged eggs. California voters passed the initiative, and the key portion of it took effect Jan. 1, 2015, when farmers had to implement new space requirements for their animals.

“The tradeoff is between animal welfare and price,” said McFadden. “For example, when you go to the store, if you want to purchase cage-free eggs, you expect to pay more. Thus, you have to decide what is more important – production method or price.”

After making purchasing decisions about eggs in the MRI, participants were divided into three groups and viewed one of three videos. One video was a campaign advertisement in support of Proposition 2, one was a campaign advertisement in opposition of Proposition 2, and the third video showed a flowing stream – the control video. Brain activity in the prefrontal cortex while making purchasing decisions before viewing a video indicated which people might be more likely to change purchasing decisions based on new information after viewing the ads, said McFadden.


By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303,

Source: Brandon McFadden, 352-294-7654,



Avatar photo
Posted: May 27, 2015

Category: Agriculture, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Research, Work & Life
Tags: Consumers, Food And Resource Economics

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories