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I had an argument with some people about the "power" of advertising. One of the guy argued that advertising could impose choices against our will, and force us to do things we did not want. He supported his point by the neuromarketing and the research on the stimulus and the brain.

He emphasized my (real) ignorance on the subject. I failed explaining to him that these experiments and research could not prove that man was not free to make his own choices and that he can not be forced to do something he doesn't want to do. I really failed. I was merely an "ignorant" vs. a "scientist" who was constantly telling me to go to learn about the subject. Annoying.

At the end he explained that the fact that there is physical laws, commercial monopolies, the size of my bank account, major depressive disorder, and many others factors ... showed that there was no choice in some cases. I failed to explain to him that it was a confusion between two different things, that you can't take the removal of reality as the standard of "choice"... he definitevely shone as "scientist" and me as "metaphysics" who confuses everything ....

The misunderstaning I faced was hopeless and very frustrating. I'm not complaining about the disagreement, but the deep misunderstanding.

I tried to explain that It's one thing to be attracted, it's another thing to lose the ability to say no ; but all I get as answer was that I don't know enough neuroscience and stuff like that. I don't have the scientific knowledge. What I said was automatically discredit because it's not "scientific", as oppose to neuroscience... Science (pretty bad interpreted I guess) is seen here as an authority, and everyone is "on the side of the science" of course.

He didn't ask me to believe science on the basis of faith, he told me to go search and get information to learn about this topic where I am ignorant. Actually, at the beginning of our discussion, he never explicitly referred to cognitive science and neuromarketing, just vaguely to the relationship between science and advertising. I asked repeatedly if he could provide me with references that he considered probative to have a basis for discussion. And the only answer was that if I didn't see what he was talking about, it showed that I didn't know anything about the topic (I dont have "the level"), that I was lazy because I didn't want to do the research on my own, that I wanted him to did the work for me, so I didn't have the required level ... I ended up guessing (after a long time) that he was talking about neuromarketing, but when I showed him links and asked him if he evaluate this particular reference as probative, he just asked me: "In your opinion?" or "You should know for yourself.", "I'm not your teacher, you have to do the job." Etc. I found this particulary dishonest, but apparently I was the only one.

Anyway,

How to explain, in understable way, that neuromarketing and neuroscience in communication can't force us to act a way we don't want to act?

Edited by gio

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With the popularity of "behavioral economics", there are some good books on the "non-rational" factors that go into decision-making. I'd start there, before going into neuroscience -- which would be the next level of detail...if you want to delve further.

Influence - by Cialdini, (very short and sweet read) and

Thinking Fast and Slow - Kahneman (more academic)

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The answer to "X causes behavior Y" is the fact that behavior Y does not invariably follow X, and any explanation for why is just plain guesswork and special pleading.  At best.  The rejection of free-will as an explanation is philosophical, not scientific.

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12 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

The answer to "X causes behavior Y" is the fact that behavior Y does not invariably follow X, and any explanation for why is just plain guesswork and special pleading.  At best.  The rejection of free-will as an explanation is philosophical, not scientific.

I'm not sure I get it, can you develop?

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11 hours ago, gio said:

I'm not sure I get it, can you develop?

 

If you start with the philosophical premise of determinism, you will interpret each scientific result in which stimulus seems to affect behavior as proof of determinism.  If someone points out that no experiment gets a 100% response, you reply with the assertion that if only you could account for all the circumstances, you would get a 100% response.

Conversely, if you start with the philosophical premise of free will, you will interpret each scientific result as merely quantifying the obvious fact that people are influenced by their environment.  You will see no need -- or possibility -- of getting a 100% response; free will means that there's always the possibility of people doing something other than the expected.

Can science prove determinism or free will?  No.  Because the interpretation of the results of scientific experiments depends on which premise you start with.  To reach either position based on science would amount to question begging.

The only field of knowledge that can speak to this issue is philosophy, and those who reject philosophy do not thereby escape philosophy.  They merely take some particular (generally incoherent) philosophy for granted, as an article of faith, as essentially a religion.

This, BTW, explains what those people were doing.  In their minds, you weren't challenging the science, you were challenging their religion's dogma.  Of course they responded with arrogance and condemnation -- just like any other religious fanatic.

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Be careful using the word "force". The government frequently forces me to do things that I don't want to do. Arguments of this type often weasel in the word "force" when they mean "get", like "I forced him to see that his argument was silly, by reducing it to an absurdity" – meaning, I got him to do so, though he was reluctant. Advertising most certainly can influence our choices, and many people are indeed suckered in by the implications of slick advertising – they focus on the pretty face and hip music, ignoring all of the important technical questions that they ought to ask about the product. I presume that you do not believe that all people are swayed only by rational product-info facts. So then what exactly are you trying to argue against?

Next time, I would concentrate on where the word "force" is first used. Stop the conversation when someone says "They don't have any choice" – where exactly is the science that shows that people are incapable of making a choice when... under what conditions? Scrutinize the science critically.

The best response to the "go look it up" challenge is "give me a citation". I always demand a legitimate vetted scientific publication. Not a blog post, a propaganda website, but a real scientific journal. This is mildly risky, because often the claim proffered in a publication can't be evaluated without knowing the jargon of the field (especially in the behavioral sciences), and it does mean yo need to be able to access journals typically behind a paywall. "Give me a citation", i.e. "put your money where your mouth is", often generates an outraged response like "Everybody knows this", so at least you will know whether you're dealing with ideologues or scientists with bad ideology.

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On 15/02/2018 at 4:13 PM, Invictus2017 said:

This, BTW, explains what those people were doing.  In their minds, you weren't challenging the science, you were challenging their religion's dogma.  Of course they responded with arrogance and condemnation -- just like any other religious fanatic.

I'm totally agree with what you said except the fact that, in their mind, I was actually challenging the science, because there is a confusion in their mind that I tried (but failed) to explain between philosophical and scientific perspective. In their mind, they used no philosophical point this is only science. I don't know how to explain this was not the case. They disregard philosophy.... as having no value against science....you see?

But, about the 100%...actually, that's an argument I used. Exactly how you said it: "I will see no need (or possibility) of getting a 100% response; free will means that there's always the possibility of people doing something other than the expected."

But they didn't care about this. Why?

Because, he said, there is actually an invariability. And this invariability is something like: "70% of people will do this"

In other word, in 100% of the results, you have 70% of people doing the predictable result. And this is enough, he said, for his point. And enough for advertising, which rely on this fact.

Edited by gio

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On 16/02/2018 at 1:08 AM, DavidOdden said:

I presume that you do not believe that all people are swayed only by rational product-info facts. So then what exactly are you trying to argue against?

I try to argue against the idea that advertising can impose to people stuff they don't want.

On 16/02/2018 at 1:08 AM, DavidOdden said:

The best response to the "go look it up" challenge is "give me a citation". I always demand a legitimate vetted scientific publication. Not a blog post, a propaganda website, but a real scientific journal. This is mildly risky, because often the claim proffered in a publication can't be evaluated without knowing the jargon of the field (especially in the behavioral sciences), and it does mean yo need to be able to access journals typically behind a paywall. "Give me a citation", i.e. "put your money where your mouth is", often generates an outraged response like "Everybody knows this", so at least you will know whether you're dealing with ideologues or scientists with bad ideology.

As I said in my first post, that is exactly what I did. I asked for any scientific reference he regards as probative.
And the only answer was that if I didn't see what he was talking about, it showed that I didn't know anything about the topic (I dont have "the level"), that I was lazy because I didn't want to do the research on my own, that I wanted him to did the work for me, so I didn't have the required level ... 
"I'm not your teacher" he answered, "go search by yourself, you're not a kid any more", etc. (this kind...)

Edited by gio

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8 hours ago, gio said:

I try to argue against the idea that advertising can impose to people stuff they don't want.

As I said in my first post, that is exactly what I did. I asked for any scientific reference he regards as probative.
And the only answer was that if I didn't see what he was talking about, it showed that I didn't know anything about the topic (I dont have "the level"), that I was lazy because I didn't want to do the research on my own, that I wanted him to did the work for me, so I didn't have the required level ... 
"I'm not your teacher" he answered, "go search by yourself, you're not a kid any more", etc. (this kind...)

Honestly, it just sounds like you were arguing with a jerk. I wouldn't lose sleep over it.

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9 hours ago, gio said:

I'm totally agree with what you said except the fact that, in their mind, I was actually challenging the science, because there is a confusion in their mind that I tried (but failed) to explain between philosophical and scientific perspective. In their mind, they used no philosophical point this is only science. I don't know how to explain this was not the case. They disregard philosophy.... as having no value against science....you see?

No, in their minds you were not challenging the science -- you could not have been, because you avowedly didn't know the science.  Your challenge was to the philosophy -- that is, their dogma -- that they used to justify their belief that the science proved that people can be controlled by external forces.

Yes, they disregard philosophy, as too many people do.  But that doesn't mean that they avoided philosophy. All it means is that they relied on an unexamined philosophy, one that tells them that people's behavior is determined by external forces.

9 hours ago, gio said:

But, about the 100%...actually, that's an argument I used. Exactly how you said it: "I will see no need (or possibility) of getting a 100% response; free will means that there's always the possibility of people doing something other than the expected."

But they didn't care about this. Why?

Because, to them, determinism is an article of faith.  It's dogma, not to be thought about, and certainly not to be challenged by those who don't accept the faith.

9 hours ago, gio said:

Because, he said, there is actually an invariability. And this invariability is something like: "70% of people will do this"

In other word, in 100% of the results, you have 70% of people doing the predictable result. And this is enough, he said, for his point. And enough for advertising, which rely on this fact.

This is mere sophistry, the sort of "reasoning" that the dogmatic use when they are confronted by unanswerable arguments.

That said, yes, advertising doesn't need 100%.  But the argument that people can be forced to act in a particular way by advertising does.  Without 100%, either in actuality or in theory, the argument is simply false.

(I think you need to beware of the trick of changing the goal-post.  That's where a person you're arguing with changes the topic when you get too close to showing them to be wrong.  So, once you pointed out the flaw -- that there are never 100% experiments -- they change the topic from the truth of determinism to the utility of advertising.)

1 hour ago, William O said:

Honestly, it just sounds like you were arguing with a jerk. I wouldn't lose sleep over it.

Agreed.  Except that I'd say "evil", not merely "jerk".  The arguments were not merely those of a disagreeable person but were also designed to subvert their opponents' reason.  They were arguments from authority -- an unspecified authority, but an authority nonetheless -- and attempts at intimidation and at creating a sense of inferiority.

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16 hours ago, gio said:

In other word, in 100% of the results, you have 70% of people doing the predictable result. And this is enough, he said, for his point. And enough for advertising, which rely on this fact.

Statistics will generally only say that there is a reliable difference between two or more groups such that they are probably part of different populations. We could infer that the particular population would follow a pattern without saying why or how they follow the pattern. Inferential statistics (which is the main way to analyze data in psychology) cannot say that 70% of a population will do the predictable results, the whole point of inferential stats is to compare, not to predict.

DavidOdden gave an excellent post, so mainly I'm adding that this guy in question probably doesn't understand how psychological science works even if he has citations.

 

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I try to argue against the idea that advertising can impose to people stuff they don't want.

 

Three terms here need to be closely scrutinized. The most egregious is “impose”. It retreats from the clearly false claim of “force”, while retaining the negative connotations of “force”. Here is a usage that gets to the core of imposing: “I don’t want to impose, but would you be able to drive me to the airport?”. The requester has a goal, the requestee probably does not share that goal, and the requester’s plan of action is to get the other to accept his goal. Imposing and persuading differ in the extent to which the requestee opposes accepting that goal. If he is neutral or only mildly opposed, we say that you persuade him to accept the goal. When force is not involved, imposing is just a way of negatively characterizing persuasion (the self-deprecating use of “impose” in the example manipulates the other party into denying that he opposes the goal, a denial manifested as a ride to the airport). In the context of the advertising discussion, it is redundant rhetoric, conveying nothing not already contained in “what people want”.

“Want” is a basic emotional relation to a thing. The ideology that you are arguing against has an implicit premise that people’s actions should be caused by their emotions, so you should engage in trade only if you have a particular emotional connection to the thing in question. And furthermore, since advertising is stipulated to be bad, that emotional state must exist before exposure to the advertising (since advertising is held to improperly influence one’s emotional state). So, does exposure to advertising create the requisite emotional state (directly or indirectly)? It certainly can. My initial emotional state was that I wanted (indeed, needed) a new cell phone. By exposure to advertising, my emotional state was changed, indirectly, to the point that I wanted a specific cell phone so much that I bought it. That emotional state was the byproduct of a rational change of state: I became aware of the properties of that phone, in comparison to others, and I concluded that it was the proper choice, given my requirements. The important thing is that initially, I did not want that phone. There was a lack of emotion: no attraction or repulsion, because I was unaware that the phone existed. Advertising expanded my knowledge, and secondarily created a desire. I didn’t want it initially, I came to want it.

“Advertising” is a tricky concept. Obviously, when a company provides information about its goods and services, that is advertising. The same goes for information provided by third parties; and it need not just be goods and services – political advertising abounds. Not just electoral advertising, but ideological advertising (you will see full page ideological ads in the New York Times every so often: you see ideological advertising on people’s front laws, car bumpers, lapels, and email signatures). When a person takes out an ad in the paper, intending to influence people’s beliefs, that is a kind of advertising. Giving a speech in public can have the same effect: is that really different from advertising? The essence of advertising is “communicating something, in the hopes of achieving an end”.

I surmise from they way you present your opponents, that there are claiming that “neuromarketing” methods have been scientifically proven to override rational decision-making (and this is evil, though maybe they are claiming that this is good). I would respond by challenging the premise that “neuromarketing” has a scientific foundation. My reading of Fisher, Chin & Klitzman “Defining Neuromarketing: Practices and Professional Challenges” is that the practice verges on junk science (it is a popular medium phenomenon, not a systematic body of peer-reviewed experimental results). They surely must be familiar with this article, if they know the literature. (That's "if" number 1).

In a few cases where there is some supposed support for some vaguely related idea, for example McClure, Li, Tomlin, Cypert, Montague & Montague “Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks”,

the results are pretty simple and unsurprising. Subjects may prefer Coke, or they may prefer Pepsi, and that preference can be observed in the brain using fMRI. Subjects are also able to visually identify Coke vs. Pepsi cans; and you might be able to trick people into thinking that they got Coke if they get Pepsi but see a picture of a Coke can.

These results can reasonably be interpreted to mean that existing “wishes” may have physical correlates in the brain. Correlation is distinct from causation: the fact that an existing mental state can be physically quantified does not mean that we can directly manipulate the brain to bring about that mental state.

I haven't touched the glaring statistical problem. You will notice in the Coke paper that there is zero discussion of subject demographics. This is not surprising for medical research, but it is fairly shocking for behavioral research like this (with a thin veneer of medical slapped over it). What is the "population" that these subjects were drawn from? Assuredly, not "humans" – it's a very restricted subset of humans. I've seen these ads, where an experimenter recruits subjects for e.g. a taste test that takes an hour (or whatever) and there is some reward. People who respond to these ads are not a random sample of humans – they live in Houston, have free time and an inclination, and do not self-filter, thinking "What kind of craziness is this?". Whatever those 67 people did, there isn't a lot of reason to infer anything about humans in general from that study.

Arming yourself with this kind of background is useful in case you plan to interact with these people again on this topic. Unfortunately, the world is full of cranks who will randomly assert falsehoods, pretending that there is underlying science. The response "I'm not your teacher; look it up yourself" is a clear give-away that they don't control the technical literature.

 

 

 

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On 17/02/2018 at 6:07 PM, Invictus2017 said:

No, in their minds you were not challenging the science -- you could not have been, because you avowedly didn't know the science. 

This is not incompatible. You can have an idea that contradicts the results of science because you ignore the results of science. That's exactly what they thought I did.

In fact, the discussion seemed to show, curiously, that they genuinely believe in free will. But that neuromarketing destroys free will. You see what I mean?

All this makes things much more hard to argue with.

2 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

I would respond by challenging the premise that “neuromarketing” has a scientific foundation.

I'm not sure it's very convincing for them. Actually, in our discussion, neuromarketing was an obvious example. But more generally, it was the use of cognitive science by advertising was supposed to be proof that advertising could impose things we did not want. And it will be complicated to argue that cognitive sciences are not science.

Edited by gio

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10 hours ago, gio said:

In fact, the discussion seemed to show, curiously, that they genuinely believe in free will. But that neuromarketing destroys free will. You see what I mean?

All this makes things much more hard to argue with.

The fundamental problem these people have is that they have rejected philosophy, so they really have no idea of what free will is.  They are as ignorant of the nature of free will as you are (supposedly) ignorant of neuromarketing research.

Free will, as applied to mental action, is an axiomatic concept; the capacity to choose is a precondition of and is entailed by the capacity to reason.  The proposition that neuromarketing (or anything else) destroys free will entails the proposition that it also destroys the capacity to reason.  Experiments that merely show a probabilistic effect on behavior simply miss the point -- they demonstrate no more than the obvious proposition that peoples' choices are influenced by their environment.  Aside from the supposed utility of quantifying that influence, such experiments deserve no more than a "duh, and now you'll prove that the sun will rise tomorrow?" in response.  Similarly, even if there are observed physical effects on a person's brain from advertising, it's irrelevant to the question of free will, unless those effects are shown to prevent a person from reasoning.

Now, if the neuromarketing advocates proved that advertising prevents people from reasoning about what is being advertised, that would be a different matter entirely.  But that is not what they have proved, nor is it what they are trying to prove.  And, unless things have changed radically since I paid attention, it is something their experiments can't prove -- those experiments are designed to eliminate the role of reason in choice.

So, next time they give you this nonsense and you want to confront it, tell them that the science does not prove that advertising destroys a person's capacity to reason and, so long as they have that capacity, they have free will.  If they try to argue against you, tell them that they haven't studied enough philosophy to have an opinion worth paying attention to.  Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, after all. But if they want references, you can direct them to Rand, rather than just blowing them off. :) 

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I am pretty sure that my opponents did think that neuromarketing (or the use of cognitive science in advertising) actually prevents people from reasoning.

And if I would have said that they haven't studied enough philosophy, obviously they would had laugh: they don't care about philosophy, they disregard it here, for them it's just a matter of science, a field which is certain and proved, as opposed to philosophy.

Thus, the hardest task is to try to explain, to make it clear that this is not a scientific issue, but a philosophical issue. The whole problem lies there. I don't know exactly how to do that.

Edited by gio

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To be fair, it takes a very active mind to be always on guard against various advertising persuasion techniques and to deliberately disregard them after identifying them.  Some are hard to resist even after identifying them.  As most people aren't that mentally active and no one is on guard at all times then advertising can have some dependable level of success with a large number of exposures.

My point is that it is possible for people to have free will and choose to not exercise it at all times.
 

Edited by Grames
grammar

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8 hours ago, Grames said:

To be fair, it takes a very active mind to be always on guard against various advertising persuasion techniques and to deliberately disregard them after identifying them.  Some are hard to resist even after identifying them.  As most people aren't that mentally active and no one is on guard at all times then advertising can have some dependable level of success with a large number of exposures.

My point is that it is possible for people to have free will and choose to not exercise it at all times.

That's exactly what I said in my discussion. I told that people who are influenced by advertising, somehow choose to be influenced: they don't care, or they accept it in a way. But this has not been heard or understood either. I was told it was not a choice, people did not have the capabilities.

Edited by gio

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