Monday, December 14, 2009

Reading Our Minds' Eyes

"Well, I hate to admit it, but it is possible that there is (one) such a thing as telepathy and (two) that the CETI project's idea that we might communicate with extraterrestrial beings via telepathy is possibly a reasonable idea--if telepathy exists and if ETIs exist. Otherwise we are trying to communicate with someone who doesn't exist with a system which doesn't work."
~ Philip K. Dick, "The Dark-Haired Girl"

According to a new study reported last week in the Chicago Tribune by columnist Julie Deardorff, if you want to wake up a man, set off a car alarm; but if it's a woman who's snoozing, a crying baby is your best bet. Yes, apparently we are that stereotypical. More on this gender bifurcation in a moment. First, let's look at Mindlab, the company that did the study.

Mindlab is based at the University of Sussex in the U.K. Its specialty is "neuromarketing." What this means is, Mindlab works with big-name companies — Audi, Boots, Cadbury, Microsoft, Panasonic and Procter & Gamble among them  — to market products directly to our quivering brains. But why take my word for it? See it in action.

The Mindlab Web site offers a video demo with the exact look and feel of an educational film from the 1950s — something on bicycle safety, perhaps, or instructions about how to become popular. 

Experiments start when a Mindlab employee fits a cap covered with electrical leads on a volunteer's head and then hooks the gizmo to an EEG machine the size of a computer hard drive. (The result looks a lot like the chapeau in this photo.) In one example, Mindlab determines which soft drink can is better than all others by having the volunteer sit in front of an "eye tracker," which does exactly what it sounds like — tracks eye movement. In another example, a volunteer is given magic eyeglasses and a floppy hat (to cover most of the wiring) and sent to a grocery store.

Mindlab is not the only company in the mind-reading game. San Francisco-based EmSense promises clients a "window into the mind of the consumer" via its EmBand™ device, which it uses "to determine emotional and cognitive activity." And there are others.

Such is the state of marketing today. At large companies, the financial penalties for a failed product are so immense, nobody wants to take risks and instincts are not to be trusted. Executives justify their decisions by insulating their derrieres with as much research data as possible.

No wonder I'm having such a hard time finding a simple alarm clock that I can set even when I'm cross-eyed tired. And speaking of alarm clocks, here are the results of Mindlab's survey, as reported by Julie Deardorff.

What wakes you up?
Top ten sounds most likely to wake men:

1. Car alarm
2. Howling wind

3. Buzzing fly
4. Snoring

5. Noise from drains

6. Crickets chirruping (or chirping as we say in America)

7. Sirens
8. Clock ticking
9. Drilling/workmen

10.Dripping tap

Top ten sounds most likely to wake women: 

1. Baby crying

2. Dripping tap
3. Rowdiness
4. Snoring

5. Buzzing fly

6. Drilling/workmen
7. Sirens

8. Car alarm
9. Howling wind
10. Noise from drain

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