Can neural responses of a small group of individuals predict the behavior of large-scale populations? In this investigation, brain activations were recorded while smokers viewed three different television campaigns promoting the National Cancer Institute’s telephone hotline to help smokers quit (1-800-QUIT-NOW). The smokers also provided self-report predictions of the campaigns’ relative effectiveness. Population measures of the success of each campaign were computed by comparing call volume to 1-800-QUIT-NOW in the month before and the month after the launch of each campaign. This approach allowed us to directly compare the predictive value of self-reports with neural predictors of message effectiveness. Neural activity in a medial prefrontal region of interest, previously associated with individual behavior change, predicted the population response, whereas self-report judgments did not. This finding suggests a novel way of connecting neural signals to population responses that has not been previously demonstrated and provides information that may be difficult to obtain otherwise.
Published in Volume 23, Issue 5, pages 439-445