Falk et al (2010) have an interesting article showing how future behaviour, applying sunscreen, can be predicted by brain activity as people watch persuasive messages.
Activity in the (a priori selected) “region of interest” (ROI), a bit of the frontal cortex (MPFC), explained 24% of variance in the number of days of actual sunscreen use. Self-reported intention to apply sunscreen explained only around 3% of variance in days use. Nice result.
I think some caution is warranted, however, before people testing message persuasiveness, such as health organisations, invest all their money in brain scanning.
Behavioural methods include not only self report. For instance asking people how smart they are (e.g., indirectly, using Need for Cognition) is not as good as testing how smart they are (e.g., using Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices). Similarly there might well be behavioural ways to test the effect of persuasion, or to infer who is most likely to be persuaded, which can predict much better than the self-reported intention.
These results clearly demonstrate that the expensive and time consuming method of functional imaging is entirely unnecessary for testing message persuasiveness. Simply show people the message and then ask them later how they actually behaved. Very cheap and easy! Especially nice if you can try out a few different versions and select the one which works best.
There is always the danger that people cannot be trusted to report their actual sunscreen usage, a point acknowledged by the authors (as their data explain variance in a self-report measure): “direct observation of behavior would be preferred in future studies, our measurement of behavior through self-report is unlikely to have artificially enhanced our results.” So here the self-report of actual sunscreen usage is completely trusted.
The imaging might provide some theoretical clues for why people were persuaded. There is little of this theory in the paper. This is it, in fact: “… this region has been associated with selfreferential processing, but our ROI also overlaps with a more ventral portion of MPFC that has been associated with implicit valuation.” Such theoretical depth is sadly common in the function imaging literature.
I am very impressed that they found an ROI that predicts so well and I appreciate that a lot of work must have gone into this study. It will be interesting to see if it replicates and generalises. I also hope some theory is on the way explaining mechanisms of persuasion.
Falk, E. B., Berkman, E. T., Mann, T., Harrison, B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2010). Predicting persuasion-induced behavior change from the brain. Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 8421-8424.
Craig Murray writes:
‘I came in for much criticism at the time for being the first “respectable” commentator to call the fact that the “Bigger than 9/11 airline plot” was massive government hype, but my sources were very good. After a long trial a jury has now found that there was no credible evidence of plans to blow up airlines.’
E-petition: Response from the Prime Minister
The petition calling for the Government to abandon plans for a National ID Scheme attracted almost 28,000 signatures – one of the largest responses since this e-petition service was set up. So I thought I would reply personally to those who signed up, to explain why the Government believes National ID cards, and the National Identity Register needed to make them effective, will help make Britain a safer place.
The petition disputes the idea that ID cards will help reduce crime or terrorism. While I certainly accept that ID cards will not prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make an important contribution to making our borders more secure, countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism. More importantly, this is also what our security services – who have the task of protecting this country – believe.
So I would like to explain why I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to use biometrics such as fingerprints to secure our identities. I would also like to discuss some of the claims about costs – particularly the way the cost of an ID card is often inflated by including in estimates the cost of a biometric passport which, it seems certain, all those who want to travel abroad will soon need.
In contrast to these exaggerated figures, the real benefits for our country and its citizens from ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card, should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year over its ten-year life.
But first, it’s important to set out why we need to do more to secure our identities and how I believe ID cards will help. We live in a world in which people, money and information are more mobile than ever before. Terrorists and international criminal gangs increasingly exploit this to move undetected across borders and to disappear within countries. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities – up to 50 at a time. Indeed this is an essential part of the way they operate and is specifically taught at Al-Qaeda training camps. One in four criminals also uses a false identity. ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult.
Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually. There is no doubt that building yourself a new and false identity is all too easy at the moment. Forging an ID card and matching biometric record will be much harder.
I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.
The National Identity Register will also help improve protection for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on those seeking to work, for example, with children. It should make it much more difficult, as has happened tragically in the past, for people to slip through the net.
Proper identity management and ID cards also have an important role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. The effectiveness on the new biometric technology is, in fact, already being seen. In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.
Nor is Britain alone in believing that biometrics offer a massive opportunity to secure our identities. Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff. France, Italy and Spain are among other European countries already planning to add biometrics to their ID cards. Over 50 countries across the world are developing biometric passports, and all EU countries are proposing to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa. What the National Identity Scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK.
These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and terrorism. I recognise that these arguments will not convince those who oppose a National Identity Scheme on civil liberty grounds. They will, I hope, be reassured by the strict safeguards now in place on the data held on the register and the right for each individual to check it. But I hope it might make those who believe ID cards will be ineffective reconsider their opposition.
If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.
I am also convinced that there will also be other positive benefits. A national ID card system, for example, will prevent the need, as now, to take a whole range of documents to establish our identity. Over time, they will also help improve access to services.
The petition also talks about cost. It is true that individuals will have to pay a fee to meet the cost of their ID card in the same way, for example, as they now do for their passports. But I simply don’t recognise most claims of the cost of ID cards. In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate.
As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport. We estimate that the cost of biometric passports will account for 70% of the cost of the combined passports/id cards. The additional cost of the ID cards is expected to be less than £30 or £3 a year for their 10-year lifespan. Our aim is to ensure we also make the most of the benefits these biometric advances bring within our borders and in our everyday lives.