Persuasion: Neuroscience Insights for Coaches

Stephen Downes linked to a fascinating article in Science Daily (23 June 2010) recently. The article is titled Neuroscientists Can Predict Your Behavior Better Than You Can. The information is the article is taken from a paper in the Journal of Neuroscience, Predicting Persuasion-Induced Behavior Change from the Brain by Emily Falk, Elliot Berkman,Traci Mann, Brittany Harrison and Matthew Lieberman.
A brief communication about the paper notes:

Although persuasive messages often alter people’s self-reported attitudes and intentions to perform behaviors, these self-reports do not necessarily predict behavior change. We demonstrate that neural responses to persuasive messages can predict variability in behavior change in the subsequent week. Specifically, a region of interest in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) was reliably associated with behavior change. Additionally, an approach using activity in the MPFC predicted an average 23% of the variance in behavior change beyond the variance predicted by self-reported attitudes and intentions. Thus, neural signals can predict behavioral changes that are not predicted from self-reported attitudes and intentions alone. Additionally, this is the first functional magnetic resonance imaging study to demonstrate that a neural signal can predict complex real world behavior days in advance.

The Science Daily article drew on a press release about the paper but made some important points of interest to coaches intent on transforming performance.

  • “There is a very long history within psychology of people not being very good judges of what they will actually do in a future situation. Many people ‘decide’ to do things but then don’t do them.”
  • Increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex among individuals viewing and listening to public service announcement slides on the importance of using sunscreen strongly indicated that these people were more likely to increase their use of sunscreen the following week, even beyond the people’s own expectations.
  • “From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do.”
  • “While most people’s self-reports are not very accurate, they do not realize their self-reports are wrong so often in predicting future behavior.”

I think a key phrase in the paper is “neural signals can predict behavioral changes that are not predicted from self-reported attitudes and intentions alone”. It would be fascinating for coaches to contemplate “neural focus groups” to test which messages will be effective with their players. This paper adds to the range of neuroscience resources available to coaches including the work of Jonah Lehrer.
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