Category Archives: Science

Why we don't click banner ads

OrangutanMore entertaining research on the human brain, this time from University of California at San Diego. According to Roland Piquepaille writing in Emerging Tech Sexy objects stimulate our brain ones brain’s visual areas respond more to ‘valuable objects’. This starts to raise all sorts of intriguing questions as to ‘what is value’. But before we go there, let’s have a little closer reading of the experiment…

What the experimenters actually did was present the equivalent of an online game or banner – clicky the right one and earn 10 cents, click the wrong and zero. Our brains quickly learn which have more value. This learned action (which is retained even when the subject has forgotten it), can be measured with scans.

Top boffin on the project one John Serences expands:

Though it is too early to say how this relates to perception, it raises the intriguing possibility that we see things we value more clearly – much like the way the brain responds to a bright object versus a dimly lit one. It’s as if the visual system is telling you how valuable something has been to you in the past… (source)

So then, at best previous exchange value, at lowest previous reward value, will imprint on the brain. It still starts to raise is whether there’s a notional value retained in the brain, even if what Marx dubs ‘commodity fetishism’ crudely put as the tendency for ‘things’ to aggregate values and meanings purloined from their human creators/exchangers.

And then we have all those gift-exchange theories, if the gift given is a pain if it’s too valuable, does the brain work in reverse when the giver gives too valuable a gift? ‘Oh on the rotten so and so has arrived with too valuable a gift, how will we ever be able to pay back?’ see for e.g. Marcel Mauss (The Gift) and Georges Bataille (The Accursed Share). One must not forget Jean Baudrillard either, hyperreality is maybe hard-wired reality, the crazy exchange of simulacra is just our brains over-heating at so much symbolic exchange, a hyper potlatch maybe.

Let us return from such cyber heights to the mundane. Not only do humans have the abilty to fire off neurons at perceived value so do apes too, well so do orangutans. See for example the BBC’s “Orangutans learn to trade favours” where a certain “calculated reciprocity” can be seen in orangutans:

Researchers from the University of St Andrews found orangutans could learn the value of tokens and trade them, helping each other win bananas.

What’s more the reciprocity meant that if one of the apes didn’t play game then the was a clear expectation that it should – this was a clear win-win game as St Andrews’ Valerie Dufour explains:

So we have a calculation behind the giving. If you don’t give me enough, then I don’t give you either; but if you give me enough, OK, then I buy your co-operation, and I secure it by giving too.

And so to banner ads. For us here working with the internet there has to be a pay-back for an action – we click a link or banner with a perceived value / reward for that action. And as we know from experience after experience that clicking on a banner ad is a waste of time and effort, we don’t click on them. The neurons stop firing, the visual parts of our brain don’t get that turn-on.

This extends beyond banners though. It casts into question SEO itself. If a site is engineered for SEO but with no actual value then SEO starts to have no value. No matter how clever a site is engineered for value by SEO, unless it has value our brains will not get excited. Dupe us a few times and though we might forget, our brains won’t.

Micah at the Learn to Duck site spells this out: SEO is Dead. It’s dead because the cash-cow has been milked dry by spurious value. But what’s more Micah reckons, the same is happening to social media. Social media has become perceived at least, as the next great cash-cow after the demise of SEO. Micah explains that social media had value, but this value is being underminded by its own success:

The content generated by users of social media began to rank highly in search engines, because it was RELEVANT. Because it had VALUE. Because it was TIMELY. Because it was REAL. Suddenly, all the SEO experts also became Social Media Experts, as social media marketing became the hot new thing.

Once the SEO experts moved to social media, the value says Micah collapse, creating:

social networks and user generated content that is full of useless, noisy, crap.

The solution to this is simple – don’t try and trick via clever SEO tricks, or falsely leveraging social media and offering no real value. It may last for a while, but our neurons know better. Content as ever is king. Even a clever monkey orangutan knows that.

UpdateSeth Godin reckons there should be “an unlimited budget for ads that work”. Just a case of defining what works means…

Sex, bionics, hedonics and the pursuit of happiness

An amusing article in the Sunday Times on a proposed bionic sex chip. According to the article scientists at Oxford University hope that within 10 years they’ll be able to implant a chip right into the pleasure cortex of the brain. Xmas 2018 looks sorted then.

However, early experiments have brought a mixed response:

A few years ago a scientist implanted such a device into the brain of a woman with a low sex drive and turned her into a very sexually active woman. She didn’t like the sudden change, so the wiring in her head was removed.

One of the key players in the field is Morten L. Kringelbach who has ‘hedonics’ as his main research area. A quick Google will reveal that hedonics stems from hedonism and studies pleasure. One can only boggle at Morten’s research practices.

Hedonics is also associated with Michael Eysenck (son of Hans Eysenck of IQ fame) who coined the term the “hedonic treadmill”. This dictum basically states that no matter what happens we basically stay at the same level of glumness. Here’s Wikipedia’s potted definition:

The tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or the achievement of major goals. According to the hedonic treadmill, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.

Now as I recall this theory relates to the happiness gained from say getting a new commodity such as a car, which lasts for about 6-8 weeks. After that it becomes the norm. The question then becomes, would the same happen with the bionic sex chip? Would one be ecstatically chuffed for 2 months and then get bored? Or would it take longer, say a 7 year itch? More to the point, will Oxford Uni be after new volunteers for their experiments? But what if they define it’s gone wrong and the volunteers don’t mind – would they have the right to continue on regardless?

To sleep, perchance to dream

Best gadget of the week has to be Sleep Oasis white noise machine. Two things I like about it are the rhythmic sounds and ability to purchase extra sound cards. $50 for a good night’s sleep, $15 for an upgrade card, unless that is you’re in the UK and convert directly to £…

Such quibbles evaporate when compared to what happens next. The Register reports that the Japanese have worked out ways to record dreams. All that’s lacking though are the pictures and sounds.

But is that’s not enough, their colleagues in Britain have worked out a way to scan women’s brains to see if they’re faking it. Apparently the more fakery the more sparks are seen in the scan, so they have more fun with less brain activity. Funny that. 

 

Fake
Fake
For real
For real

Can’t wait to see the movies when the Japanese eggheads create a mashup with their British counterparts.

Moon's Moon – MoonLITE 2014

Must confess the idea of a British led space mission excites and amuses in equal measures. In an age where Dan Dare has been eclipsed by Wallace and Grommit, British Space Expoloration seems to hark back to a golden age of Eagle comics and kick-start motor bikes.

That said, there’s one planned for 2014, well there might be if it seems a good idea and we can afford it, explains CNET. The idea itself is to give the Moon its very own moon so our lunar chaps can have a chat on their mobiles: “I can’t hear you I’m on the Moon…” comes to mind.

To book your 1st Class ticket, don’t delay: call Baron Drayson for full details and the best seats via the BNSC website.

Dumb down, deeper and down?

Quick on the tail of the, erm Long Tail, The Register now takes a new pot shot at Malcom Gladwell, author of Tipping Point: “The dumb, dumb world of Malcolm Gladwell. Subtitled “A guru for the brain dead”, Andrew Orlowski’s article is a stiff piece of polemic, while also taking nifty side-wipes at Britain’s liberal intelligentsia (there must be a neologism lurking there) and at Corporateville, identifying what he calls the ‘Vertical Marketing Bureaucrat’. The common factor between these bureaucrats and their counterpart in the Public Sector is for Orlowski, their fondness for monitoring and measurement.

Now maybe I’m a bit too biased, but I’m not so sure that measurement itself is a bad thang. Vertical marketing is like horizontal collaboration, it very much depends on the depends – get it wrong and it’s tars and feather, get it right and it’s stars and stripes. In terms of measurement itself, the key factor is what’s measured. A common misery here (or at least as we’re told by those that lament as such), is that the measurements desired by New Labour Bureaucracies are simply not quite right – the targets are not bull’s eyes but emanate from the other end of the bovine equation.

But getting back to Orlowski’s piece, I wonder if what we’re seeing here is the start of a trend to demand the hard facts – in God we trust and all that. For long the Environmentalist lobby has proclaimed the supremacy of hard data against those that doubt their prognosis (too much to close down the chatter some say). Are we though seeing others begin to demand the same scrutiny? The Register is on a mission and then we have Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science” hitting the window-displays for Xmas, plus “Street Science” a new series from Radio 4 that promises/threatens to look at GM crops and Human-Animal hybrid research with an open eye, or should that be ear?

Good news for Science perchance. Except that is that Gladwell says his work isn’t even that:

I like to think of it as an intellectual adventure story. […] I think it will appeal to anyone who wants to understand the world around them in a different way. I think it can give the reader an advantage–a new set of tools. Of course, I also think they’ll be in for a very fun ride.

Dash it, so we’ve been taken for a ride and we’re just back to storytelling after all…