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Brand Name Buzz

Scientists have discovered that brand name products have a greater impact on our brains than similar, generic items, because brand names engage the "emotional," right-hand side of the brain. Our brains don't process all types of words in the same way. Head injury patients can often match a person's name to a photo, while common words like "house" or "paper" are meaningless to them. Advertising consultant Robert Jones says, "It supports our instinctive belief that brands are a special class of word?they are like a poem all in one word in their ability to evoke and express ideas."

Possidonia Gontijo, of UCLA, wanted to find out if our brains put brand names into a special category of their own, since they are different from other words in that they?re always seen in the same writing style and often the same colors (like the red and white of Coke). Also, a single word, like ?Sony,? can represent a wide range of items.

Gontijo and her team tested how quickly and accurately 48 students recognized hundreds of words as real or not. The real words were brand names like "Compaq" and common nouns like "river." "Nonwords" were 108 meaningless letter strings like "beash" and "noerds." The students saw the words either in all capitals, or all lower case letters, flashed to the left or the right side of a computer screen.

The students recognized the common nouns most quickly, followed by the brand names, then the nonwords. Whether regular words were in capitals or lower case made no difference. But the students recognized brand names more accurately when they were written in capital letters, which is something advertisers will be excited to learn about.

Also, common nouns were easiest to recognize in the right visual field, which connects to the left side of the brain. But this was less true for brand names, meaning the right side of the brain plays a bigger role in identifying them. Jones says this makes sense because, "A brand's power is that it conjures up a whole range of associations and ideas, which are primarily emotional."

But how could our brains have evolved to recognize brand names, which are only a few hundred years old? Eran Zaidel, of UCLA, says our brains are flexible enough to adapt to new information. "While brands are a recent linguistic development,? he says, ?So is reading from an evolutionary perspective."

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