Specific areas of the brain are activated when we are exposed to deceptive advertising and subtly deceptive ads evoke the strongest response, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Marketing Research.
Researchers showed participants print advertisements (for equally desirable products) that were deemed either “highly believable,” “moderately deceptive” or “highly deceptive” and found that people go through a two-step process when discriminating deceptive ads.
First our conscious attention focuses on the ad. The more deceptive the ad, the more we focus on it—a response akin to our attention being drawn to potential threats in our environment.
Second the brain activates our theory-of-mind reasoning, which allows us to distinguish our wants, needs and intentions from those of others, to determine the truth behind the claims.
Moderately deceptive ads stimulate the brain more during this second stage as highly deceptive ads are screened out more quickly and thus require less attention.
Interestingly, participants more frequently believed moderately deceptive advertising when researchers disrupted the theory-of-mind stage, thereby affirming that the second stage helps protect consumers by enabling them to better discriminate and screen out deceptive ads.
“Now that we’ve identified these stages of brain response, it may help future researchers identify underlying neural reasons why some populations are more prone to fall prey to deceptive ads,” researcher Dr. Stacy Wood said. “For example, if these regions of the brain are likely to be affected by ageing, it may explain why older adults are more vulnerable to fraud or deceptive advertising. Or how might concussive brain injuries, such as those seen in some sports, affect our long-term discrimination in making good consumer choices?”
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