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MRI Scans

Who could have predicted that Lady Gaga would turn into the biggest thing since Madonna? Greg Berns didn’t, but he thinks he could have. The Emory University researcher believes he can predict a song’s popularity by examining MRI brain scans of people listening to it. Berns and his team found that songs that later turned out to be hits sparked greater activity in teens’ brains than flops did. “We could look at [a few] brains and see what the greater collective was interested in,” Berns says. “And my hunch is this goes beyond music.”

At least a half-dozen companies use similar methods to measure the appeal of products. NeuroFocus, the biggest of these so-called neuromarketing companies, has tested packaging for an olive oil distributor and has tried to determine when consumers think electronic gadgets cross the line from slim to flimsy. “We’re not omnipotent,” admits NeuroFocus marketing chief Caroline Winnett, “but we can shine light in the darkest parts of a consumer’s mind, and that’s worth something.”

Saadi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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