This is Your Brain on Horror Movies

Ransom Riggs

MRI technology has been around for years, but only recently have people outside of the medical industry started using it -- for marketing research. Using MRIs to "peek inside" the brain while test subjects watch commercials, political speeches or are presented with different types of products drew a bit of controversy initially (they'll start advertising to us subliminally!) but over the past few years acceptance has grown as more and more companies are taking advantage of the technology. Former mental_flosser Mary Carmichael wrote about neuromarketing back in 2004. She describes a neuromarketer's perspective on the "Pepsi Challenge" --

Montague had his subjects take the Pepsi Challenge while he watched their neural activity with a functional MRI machine, which tracks blood flow to different regions of the brain. Without knowing what they were drinking, about half of them said they preferred Pepsi. But once Montague told them which samples were Coke, three-fourths said that drink tasted better, and their brain activity changed too. Coke "lit up" the medial prefrontal cortex -- a part of the brain that controls higher thinking.

Marketers have also been using MRI to measure moviegoers' response to movie trailers, and now -- taking it a step further -- a movie producer, Peter Katz, has used neuromarketing to analyze scenes from his latest film, horror flick Pop Skull. He took footage from the film down to MindSign Neuromarketing in San Diego, which analyzed the brain activity of a test subject during repeated viewings of two scenes. They were watching for activity in the Amygdala, a part of the brain that plays a primary role in the processing of emotional reactions -- particularly fear. Peter was kind enough to put together a video of the test and provide us with a clip from it. You can see in real time as the test subject's fear center "lights up" during certain parts of each clip. (Warning, there's a sort-of-graphic knife to the gut near the end of the second clip. Not safe for kiddies.)

Could this technology change the way movies are made? (Or, perhaps more to the point, should it?) What do you think?