The Super Bowl's real winners

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We have now completed our analyses on the functional magnetic-resonance-imaging data from five healthy volunteers that were studied last night at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center while they were watching Super Bowl ads. We tested a total of 24 ads, 21 Super Bowl ads and three "test ads" that were previously shown.

Our results show that the overwhelming winner among the Super Bowl ads is the Disney-NFL "I am going to Disney" ad. The Disney ad elicited strong responses in orbito-frontal cortex and ventral striatum, two brain regions associated with processing of rewards. Also, the Disney ad induced robust responses in mirror neuron areas, indicating identification and empathy. Further, the circuit for cognitive control, encompassing anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, was highly active.

We consider all these features positive markers of brain responses to the ad. In second place, the Sierra Mist ad activated the same brain regions but less so than the Disney ad.

Considering the hype surrounding the ads, I would say several performed poorly when judged on the basis of the brain activity induced in key areas for social behavior. However, the three biggest flops seem to be the Burger King ad, the FedEx ad and the GoDaddy ad.

People-when interviewed-tend to say what they are expected to say, but their brain seems to say the opposite. For instance, female subjects may give verbally very low "grades" to ads using actresses in sexy roles, but their mirror neuron areas seem to fire up quite a bit, suggesting some form of identification and empathy.

-"Who really won the Super Bowl?" by Marco Iacoboni, Edge Third Culture,, Feb. 7

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