Brain creates `buzz` to spread ideas

Washington: Scientists have for the first time identified the brain regions that are associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called `buzz`.

The study by University of California - Los Angeles has a broad range of implications and could lead to more effective public health campaigns, more persuasive advertisements and better ways for teachers to communicate with students.

"Before this study, we didn`t know what brain regions were associated with ideas that become contagious, and we didn`t know what regions were associated with being an effective communicator of ideas," said study`s lead author Emily Falk.

In the first part of the study, 19 UCLA students (average age 21), underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans at UCLA`s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center as they saw and heard information about 24 potential television pilot ideas.

The students exposed to these TV pilot ideas were asked to envision themselves as television studio interns who would decide whether or not they would recommend each idea to their producers.

Another group of 79 UCLA undergraduates (average age 21) was asked to act as the producers. These students watched the interns` videos assessments of the pilots and then made their own ratings about the pilot ideas based on those assessments.

The psychologists found that the interns who were especially good at persuading the producers showed significantly more activation in a brain region known as the temporoparietal junction, or TPJ, at the time they were first exposed to the pilot ideas they would later recommend.

They had more activation in this region than the interns who were less persuasive and more activation than they themselves had when exposed to pilot ideas they didn`t like. The psychologists call this the "salesperson effect."

"It was the only region in the brain that showed this effect," study`s senior author, Matthew Lieberman, said. One might have thought brain regions associated with memory would show more activation, but that was not the case, he said.

"We wanted to explore what differentiates ideas that bomb from ideas that go viral," Falk said.

"We found that increased activity in the TPJ was associated with an increased ability to convince others to get on board with their favourite ideas," Falk said.

The TPJ, located on the outer surface of the brain, is part of what is known as the brain`s "mentalising network," which is involved in thinking about what other people think and feel. The network also includes the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, located in the middle of the brain.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.