Brain waves are generated when the brain lights up with energy, such as when aroused by advertising stimulus. The use of brain waves to study advertising is currently a hot area for research.
In general, the peaks of brain waves seem to follow the rhythms of commercial storytelling. They are also linked to memory through a complex relationship.
One experiment we, at Ameritest, conducted involved the most popular ad of the 2011 Superbowl, Volkswagon’s “The Force.” We found that the visuals that generate brain wave peaks are remembered by 84 percent of the audience fifteen minutes after seeing the ad, while the visuals falling in brain wave valleys are only remembered by 72 percent of the audience, which is a statistically significant difference.
Like the brain wave curve, the memory graph produced by this commercial has many peaks. However, brain waves generated fifteen EEG peaks, while only nine peak memories were created.
Also, the mountain range shape of the brain wave curve for this commercial was relatively flat, with the peaks and valleys being more or less the same height. The same was not true for the memory map of the commercial. Some parts of the ad stood out in memory better than others.
The reason for this discrepancy is that attention associated with brain arousal is only one of the factors that determine when long-term memories are created by a commercial.
Emotion also affects memory, which is not always measured by brain waves. It must be picked up by other biometric techniques, such as heart rate or skin conductance.
Yet another variable related to memory is meaning. The brain stores the meaning of an experience, not the sensory data of experience. Sometimes, the full meaning of a commercial is not revealed until the end. The reflection of this meaning affects how other parts of the ad are remembered after the ad is over.
Thus, there is not a one-to-one correspondence between brain waves and memories. In a larger study of 36 television commercials, Ameritest found a total of 113 brain wave peaks were generated across all the commercials, but 149 short-term memory peaks were formed. This suggests that many more variables need to be understood to determine the relationship between brain waves and memories. For example, current EEG technologies only measure the electrical activity in the outer shell of the brain, while memories formed in the deeper, more primitive parts of the brain are missed.
The point is that brain waves tell us something about memory formation — but we are not sure yet exactly what they are telling us.
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