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Science - The R-Complex

Advertising and the reptilian brain

Modern advertising techniques appeal to our most primitive mechanisms

A few weeks ago in Santiago, Chile we saw the results of the ACHAP convention (Chilean Advertisement Association) about the power of emotions in advertising. The presentations agreed with the most recent theories of research in neuro-physics, and left no doubt about the hierarchy of emotions within the brain, and the underlying brain structures, specifically according to McLean’s research on the diencephalons or R-complex.

This makes me think about the terrible use of sophisticated technology and knowledge to manipulate the mind of the consumer.  I wouldn’t be surprised if in years to come, legislators were to “follow their consciences,” and pass laws to protect the minds of people exposed to such highly sophisticated influences. That means, to protect us,   because the power of advertising to suggest and direct our behavior goes beyond what is ethically permitted.

At the convention, there was a debate about the value of research to support the development and validation of marketing and advertising designs and strategies.  Mr. Robert Heath, who was a guest speaker, and who also represents a multinational corporation, explained how to obtain the best return on investments in advertising campaigns, that is, through lowering the target market’s conscious attention and directing the message at the most primitive emotions which are not analyzed by an individual’s consciousness.  All of this was backed up by the latest neuro-physiological research in advertising, euphemistically called: “Motivational Research.”

Mr. Heath, who demonstrated profound knowledge of the subject matter, spoke about the latest theories of learning and information processing.  He pointed out how decisions about brand names entail very little rational processing and that everyday exposure to the media takes place under low levels of attention, (meaning: consciousness). He further explained that what takes place at these levels is “implicit learning,” with greater power to establish “habitual neuron routes” called engrams, and that emotional communication is more effective through this.  He told the audience how to program the Homo sapiens’ hard disk more effectively, and indelibly.

In any case, what is true is that emotional responses are physiologically faster than rational ones. This is easy to prove by observing how our emotional states can trigger responses that contradict our criteria or more cultured forms of acting. That’s because the structure where our rational center operates is above the “emotional brain” (limbic system) and further from the center that activates a response. We are speaking of time and space within our brain and this is how marketing science takes control.

The explanation can be found in neurophysiologist Paul McLean’s theory, which states that we have three brains that function like interconnected biological computers.  Under the limbic system we find the oldest brain of all, the Reptilian Brain, (Paleoencephalon or R-Complex.)

Our R-Complex is almost identical to that of snakes and lizards. Its structures make up the lower sector of the nervous system composed of the spinal chord, the nuclei of the base, mesencephalon and the reticular system.  We must clarify that these mechanisms function with the same archaic programs of behavior that were designed over 180 million years ago, and show that the responses of our reptilian brain tend to dominate our behavior versus the neo-cortex (more rational) as was thought up until recently.

In reptiles, the responses are programmed and automatic. The R-complex takes care of the basic instincts of survival and primary impulses: safety, territory, mating, routines, habits, patterns, conditioning, etc.  Herein lie established social structures, which are also the target of advertising and cultural manipulation.

It is important to emphasize that communication directed to the reptilian brain causes deeper impressions and triggers faster responses than emotional or rational ones. This explains how erotic and sexual codes are so efficient in advertising.  But beyond the desire to establish these engrams, it is important to bear in mind the consistency among the expected response of each brain.  In fact the engrams “among brains” (the three that we have in our head) are more permanent and predictable than the purely rational ones, established through education or social conditioning. For example, “prince charming,” (engram-brand) connects the idea of having a partner (rational) with the need of affection (emotional), although it is based on sexual instincts.

This also explains that implicit learning, regarding the reptilian brain, activates when facing a threat, but if there is no threat, it passively absorbs any stimuli.

Taking the above into account, it is not necessary to be a rocket scientist in order to see how the application of all of this knowledge, this science of manipulation, takes up the little free spaces that are left in the human race.

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