Your memories are bought and paid for

I’ve been reading a lot about cognitive biases lately, for a post I recently finished (that hopefully will be published soon) and I wanted to share a fascinating post only slightly related to that topic, that didn’t make it into my post on the subject. Jonah Lehrer has a characteristically fascinating post at Wired on how ads implant false memories. You really should read it all. But here’s a bit that struck me, from the perspective of someone interested in media:

A new study, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, helps explain both the success of this marketing strategy and my flawed nostalgia for Coke. It turns out that vivid commercials are incredibly good at tricking the hippocampus (a center of long-term memory in the brain) into believing that the scene we just watched on television actually happened. And it happened to us.

The experiment went like this: 100 undergraduates were introduced to a new popcorn product called “Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh Microwave Popcorn.” (No such product exists, but that’s the point.) Then, the students were randomly assigned to various advertisement conditions. Some subjects viewed low-imagery text ads, which described the delicious taste of this new snack food. Others watched a high-imagery commercial, in which they watched all sorts of happy people enjoying this popcorn in their living room. After viewing the ads, the students were then assigned to one of two rooms. In one room, they were given an unrelated survey. In the other room, however, they were given a sample of this fictional new popcorn to taste. (A different Orville Redenbacher popcorn was actually used.)
One week later, all the subjects were quizzed about their memory of the product. Here’s where things get disturbing: While students who saw the low-imagery ad were extremely unlikely to report having tried the popcorn, those who watched the slick commercial were just as likely to have said they tried the popcorn as those who actually did. Furthermore, their ratings of the product were as favorable as those who sampled the salty, buttery treat. Most troubling, perhaps, is that these subjects were extremely confident in these made-up memories. The delusion felt true. They didn’t like the popcorn because they’d seen a good ad. They liked the popcorn because it was delicious.

Read the whole post to learn more about the science here. But isn’t that variable of text vs. video fascinating?

The home page still matters

I honestly couldn’t tell you what the home pages for several of my favorite websites look like.  I do a lot of my reading through an RSS reader, which delivers new content from the blogs and news feeds to which I subscribe.  When I do visit the actual sites it’s almost exclusively through links from Twitter, Facebook, Gchat, email, etc., which direct me to specific pieces of content.  I almost never head over to a site’s hogawker-logomepage to see what’s promoted there.

But the home page still matters.  A lot.  That’s my takeaway from Gawker founder Nick Denton’s description of the site’s redesign.  The redesign “represents an evolution of the very blog form that has transformed online media over the last eight years” according to Denton.  And one of the central changes is replacing the reverse-chronological content display of the typical blog with “one visually appealing “splash” story, typically built around compelling video or other widescreen imagery and run in full.”

There’s a lot more in the post, including about the merits of video and of scoops over aggregation.  But more than anything, I was surprised by the enduring emphasis on the home page, even in the age of Twitter.  Maybe beyond the times oughta mix up the home page a bit?

(If you don’t have time to read the whole Denton post, The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal has a Gawker-esque top 5 takeaways post.)