An Exploration of Triune Brain Effects in Advertising

Arjun Chaudhuri, Fairfield University
Ross Buck, University of Connecticut
ABSTRACT - A causal modelling approach is used to investigate the relationship of advertising strategies, ad-evoked thoughts and feelings and ad effectiveness. Results indicate that ad strategies are indirectly linked to ad effectiveness with the indirect path occurring through aspects of the "triune" brain, as measured by the CASC scale.
[ to cite ]:
Arjun Chaudhuri and Ross Buck (1995) ,"An Exploration of Triune Brain Effects in Advertising", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 133-138.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 133-138


Arjun Chaudhuri, Fairfield University

Ross Buck, University of Connecticut


A causal modelling approach is used to investigate the relationship of advertising strategies, ad-evoked thoughts and feelings and ad effectiveness. Results indicate that ad strategies are indirectly linked to ad effectiveness with the indirect path occurring through aspects of the "triune" brain, as measured by the CASC scale.


According to MacLean (1990; 1973), the human brain is essentially a "triune" brain consisting of three independent yet interactive brain structures. Responses such as aggression, sex, striving for power, etc. constitute the workings of the reptilian brain (brain stem, mid brain, basal ganglia) that is part of our evolutionary heritage and that has evolved over millennia. Prosocial and individualistic feelings are generated in the limbic system or old mammalian brain and these function to preserve the species and the individual, respectively. The neocortex or neomammalian brain represents the last of the "three brains" and it is the center for higher order learning, language and sequential thought processes.

This study proposes to examine the nature of the advertising strategies that relate to the workings of the triune brain as measured during advertising exposure by the CASC (Communication via Analytic and Syncretic Cognition) scale (Chaudhuri and Buck 1994). Specifically, we investigate whether certain ad strategies are directly related to measures of advertising effectiveness such as "liking" or whether these ad strategies are indirectly linked to advertising effectiveness, with the indirect path occurring through analytic (rational) and syncretic (emotional) cognitions, as measured by the CASC scale. No specific hypotheses are presented since the scope of this study is exploratory in nature.


Syncretic and Analytic Cognition

Buck (1988) describes two types of cognition. The first is syncretic cognition or "knowledge by acquaintance," which cannot be described but is "known" immediately by the person and may consist of sensations, bodily symptoms, drives and affects, such as happiness, fear, anger, and disgust. This is the process of immediate and subjective experience which William James (1890) wrote about: "I know the color blue when I see it, and the flavor of a pear when I taste it....but about the inner nature of these facts or what makes them what they are I can say nothing at all" (p. 22).

In contrast to syncretic cognition, which is holistic, synthetic and right brain oriented, analytic cognition or "knowledge by description" is sequential, analytic and left brain oriented (Tucker 1981). While syncretic cognition is derived from direct sensory awareness, analytic cognition results from the interpretation of sensory data and involves judgements about phenomena. As Bertrand Russell (1912) observed, "My knowledge of a table as a physical not direct knowledge. Such as it is, it is obtained through acquaintance with the sense-data that make up the appearance of the table" (p. 73-74).

Thus, the brain appears to involve two functionally different ways of knowing. Seen in this light, emotion is a kind of cognition: syncretic cognition which is the product of the reptilian and old mammalian brains (MacLean 1990), as typically processed by the right hemisphere. It constitutes general affects such as happiness, fear, anger, etc. and also such primal urges as the search for pleasure, power, sex, etc. Further, syncretic and analytic cognition are the direct outcomes of the advertising strategies discussed next.

Advertising Strategies

The effects of four different types of advertising strategies were examined in this study: product information strategies, spokesperson strategies, family appeals and status appeals. These four strategies are based on generally accepted theories of advertising and are expected to relate to analytic and syncretic cognitions as discussed below.

Systematic learning theories, under the traditional information processing paradigm in consumer behavior (Bettman 1979), view the consumer as an active processor of information. The generation of analytic cognitions is especially relevant to message elements in ads, which present product information in a favorable way. Lavidge and Steiner (1961) proposed a hierarchy of advertising effects in which attitude formation for a brand starts with beliefs, leads to overall evaluation and, finally, leads to behavior. According to Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) as well, a person's attitude is a function of his or her salient beliefs. This process of the creation of beliefs and judgements about brands is also the process of knowledge by description, which produces analytic cognition.

According to Chaiken (1980) persons process information in both systematic and heuristic ways. While systematic processing involves thoughtful, "mindful" analysis of the content of the ad, heuristic processing involves the use of simple heuristic cues in order to arrive at a conclusion (brand preferences, etc.). Thus, consumers may use simple decision rules such as buying a brand name; buying the brand advertised by an expert, attractive or trustworthy spokesperson; or buying the brand that most people use. Moreover, spontaneous affective cues, such as spokespersons, may elicit heuristic processing and generate syncretic cognition. Ray and Batra (1983) state that emotion laden stimuli in ads may create better message acceptance, since in a positive affective state, people tend to make speedier, less complex judgements. The use of visual, sensory, nonverbal imagery may discourage counterargument and analytic cognitions and facilitate persuasion via affective heuristic cues which generate syncretic cognition.

Pavlov (1927) and others (Watson and Rayner, 1920) in their classic experiments demonstrated that if two dissimilar objects are repetitively associated together in close contiguity to each other, the emotional response originally elicited by the unconditioned stimulus can, over time, be elicited by the conditioned stimulus alone. Thus, classical conditioning strategies result in syncretic cognition through the use of spontaneous (nonverbal) cues in the advertisement. Persuasion here is almost on a subliminal level and the attempt is to create involvement with the advertisement by using affect-laden appeals like family appeals, sex appeals, humor, etc. Repeated pairings of a brand with a favorable affective appeal, over time, transfers the affect to the brand itself.

Pechmann and Stewart (1989) describe the process of vicarious learning through advertising. Ads that portray reward or punishment for an actor due to use or non use of a particular brand arouse identification and emotion. The point is that humans construct beliefs, rules about which brands/products to use, based on emotional communication. The rewards/punishments meted out to the model in the ad are exemplified in the model's expressive behavior, such as facial expressions, etc. The process of observing (decoding) such emotional expression results in arousal and a vicarious sharing of the same subjective experience as undergone by the model in the ad. The consumer comes to associate the brand with the emotion generated (happiness, say) and sees the brand as the social instrument that obtains rewards and stays punishment. Thus, it is suggested that certain nonverbal cues, such as the delineation of social rewards and status appeals represent vicarious learning strategies that result in syncretic cognitions concerning the emotional benefits of advertised brands.




The CASC Scale

The CASC (Communication Analytic and Syncretic Cognitions) Scale consists of items that investigate analytic and syncretic cognitions elicited by advertising (Chaudhuri and Buck 1994). It is a multidimensional scale (see Table 1) consisting of four subscales and, of these, one subscale contains analytic cognitive items, while the other three subscales ask for syncretic cognitive responses on the dimensions of reptilian, prosocial and individualistic feelings (MacLean 1990). CASC is a seven point paper and pencil scale anchored at two ends by "Not At All" and "A Lot" (see Appendix I). The general form of the scale is "Did the ad make you think/feel ...". In all there are sixteen items, four for each subscale. Coefficient alpha for the analytic subscale is highest at .96, followed by prosocial at .79, reptilian at .78 and individual at .70.

Advertising Effectiveness

Two single item responses served in this study to measure advertising effectiveness in terms of "liking" and "buying". The items (seven point scale) were "How much did you like the ad ?" and "Was the ad effective in leading you to buy the product ?". We used both liking and buying in order to tap both the rational and emotional dimensions of attitudes, as discussed by Biel and Bridgwater (1990).

Likability has repeatedly been identified by practitioners to be a strong determinant of brand and commercial success (Haley and Baldinger 1991; McCarthy 1991; Biel and Bridgwater 1990) and ad effectiveness in terms of buying the product is clearly a worthwhile objective. Past research (Batra and Ray 1986; Edell and Burke 1987; Holbrook and Batra 1987) has also demonstrated that emotional responses are related to attitudinal measures of ad effectiveness similar to those used in this study and, accordingly, the multidimensional elements of the CASC scale can also be expected to predict ad effectiveness. It is also expected that advertising strategies (discussed next) will be indirectly related to liking and buying since ad strategies are expected to relate directly to analytic and syncretic cognitions, as discussed earlier.

Advertising Strategies

Table 2 provides the items which were used to operationalize product information, spokesperson strategies, family appeals and status appeals. Certainly, these are not the only viable operationalizations of the four ad strategies and they are not meant to be exhaustive of all advertising strategies. For instance, classical conditioning strategies could also be represented by sex appeals, humor, animals and other ad executions. The attempt here has been to measure some of the ad strategies that may be related to analytic and syncretic cognitions. In particular, family appeals were chosen since it is reasonable to expect that such appeals may be related to the "prosocial" syncretic cognitive subscale in CASC. Similarly, spokesperson strategies and status appeals may also be expected to relate to syncretic cognitions, while product information strategies should be related to analytic cognitions.


Dependent Variables

This study used ads, rather than individuals, as the units of observation. This method of analysis has been in vogue in recent years (Holbrook and Batra 1987; Olney, Holbrook and Batra 1991; Stewart and Furse 1986), since it has more significance for advertising practitioners who have to consider the effects of individual ads. Accordingly, two hundred and forty advertisements were selected for analysis. Of these, exactly half were television ads and half were full page color ads from magazines. Ads were selected to represent a range of product categories in both print and TV. Ads in both media were also selected with the range of responses in the CASC scale in mind. Since this method of analysis involves the use of aggregative responses from individuals in order to arrive at scores for individual ads, subjects (or, more correctly, "raters" of analytic and syncretic cognitions) had to be recruited.

One hundred and twenty nine undergraduate communication students (64 male, 65 female) from a large state university in northeastern Connecticut provided analytic and syncretic cognitive responses, using the CASC scale, for the entire set of ads. Additionally, they provided responses on "liking" and "buying". Each subject viewed 10 television ads and read 10 magazine ads and provided their responses after each ad. A minimum of 10 subjects responded to each ad with regard to analytic and syncretic cognitions and ad effectiveness. Print and TV ads from the total pool were randomly assigned to sets of ten and two sets (one for TV and one for print) were randomly chosen by the researcher for any one group of subjects. In all, twelve groups responded to 240 ads in sets of 20 ads (10 for TV and 10 for print) per group. Subjects were randomly assigned to the groups and received course credit for their participation.

The procedures for obtaining responses to the ads were as follows. Subjects were told that we were interested in investigating the thoughts and feelings that are evoked by advertising and, accordingly, they were to respond to the ads spontaneously, without too much deliberation. Subjects watched each of the television ads and responded after each ad. Similarly, they viewed copies of the magazine ads and responded after each ad and then went on to the next ad. Questionnaires were reverse ordered to obviate fatigue and order effects and the order of presentation of the ads was reversed for half of the subjects in each group.



Independent Variables

Eight judges (4 male, 4 female) were trained to rate the extent of the presence of the four advertising strategies and Table 2 lists these items, which were rated using a unipolar seven point rating scale, anchored by the points "None - - - A Lot".

All eight raters rated 40 (20 for TV and 20 for print) of the 240 ads. Next, 100 ads were rated by four of the raters and the remaining 100 ads were rated by the other four raters. Table 2 gives the reliabilities for each item across the first 40 ads. Note that only 2 of the items had reliabilities of less than .75. These items were dropped from further analysis, since they appear to have been inconsistently coded and may be considered to be non-reliable items on which raters did not always agree. For the remaining items, the mean of each item for every ad was derived from the scores by the individual raters and the mean was then assigned as the score for that item for the corresponding ad. Note from this, and the previous discussion, that the study uses independent samples of "judges" to arrive at the aggregative measures for the independent and dependent variables attributed to the ads. This is an extremely important precaution that guards against the kind of response bias that is likely to occur when the same sample provides both sets of measures.

Analysis and Results

The final analysis used advertisements as the unit of analysis (N=240) and each ad was provided a mean score (compiled by using the mean of the individual subjects' scores) to represent the level of analytic and syncretic cognitions and liking and buying. Similarly, as discussed earlier, the mean of each ad strategy item was compiled from the individual ratings by the judges who rated the ads for advertising content. Thus, an aggregative data set was compiled for all 240 ads. Covariance structure analysis (using Lisrel VII) was employed to test this data set for the direct and indirect paths from the four advertising strategies to the two measures of ad effectiveness with the indirect paths occurring through analytic and syncretic cognitions, as measured by the four subscales of the CASC scale. Liking and buying were treated as single indicator variables, assumed to be measured without error. A marker variable strategy was used.

We first tested the just identified model specifying all possible paths between the constructs. Paths that were non-significant (t value<1.96, p >.05) were dropped from the model and Figure 1 presents the final or trimmed model showing only the significant paths between the constructs. The final model fits the data fairly well (Chi Square=376.57, d.f. 315, p=.01, GFI=.902, AGFI=.874, RMSR=.056). Although a non-significant Chi Square with a p value closer to .10 would have been more desirable, it was unnecessary to relax orthogonality constraints further since the goodness of fit indices were at an acceptable level. In fact, the calculation of other indices, as recommended by Bentler (1980), shows that the goodness of fit of the model is actually very good once we compensate for the high degrees of freedom (Tucker Lewis index=.985; Bentler Bonett index=.901).

Figure 1 and Table 3 provide the following results:

(a) None of the ad strategy variables are directly linked to advertising effectiveness in terms of liking and buying.

(b) However, all the ad strategy variables are directly related to one or more of the analytic and syncretic cognition constructs. Spokesperson strategies cause "individualistic" reactions (anger, etc.) and also predict an absence of "reptilian" and "prosocial" elements. Status appeals cause both individualistic and reptilian emotions. Family appeals cause prosocial feelings and an absence of reptilian feelings. Product information causes analytic cognitions and an absence of prosocial feelings.

(c) With one exception (reptilian), all of the analytic and syncretic cognitions are related to either liking or buying or both. Analytic cognitions are not related to liking for the ad but they are positively related to buying. The prosocial dimension of syncretic cognitions is positively related to both liking and buying, while the individualistic subscale is negatively related to liking. (d) It follows from (a), (b) and (c) that advertising strategies are indirectly related to liking and buying with the indirect path occurring through analytic and syncretic cognitions.






Our results indicate that spokesperson and status appeals both create "individualistic" reactions such as anger, disgust and irritation. Spokespeople, typical consumers relating their satisfaction with products, are also strongly conducive to an absence of positive emotional responses such as happiness, pride and hope. Of course, these strategies may still be effective in terms of other measures (say "recall") of ad effectiveness, which were not examined in this study. However, if the intention of the advertiser is to create a positive emotional bond between the consumer and the product, then this may not be the way to do it. Perhaps, this advertising format has become all too common and suffers from "wear out" so that spokespeople lack credibility.

While vicarious learning strategies (status appeals) were not significantly related to analytic or prosocial dimensions, there was a strong, positive and significant relationship with reptilian. This confirms Buck's (1989) assertion that emotional communication is directly accessible to an audience and does not require the intervention of analytic cognitions. Moreover, consistent with earlier studies (Zillmann and Bryant 1985), there is evidence here that the process of observational learning may be mediated by physiological arousal - recall that reptilian was composed of such elements as "aggressive" and "sexy". Vicarious learning strategies thus appear to have direct behavioral effects that are independent of the more knowledge - based ("cognitive" in the larger sense) factors such as analytic cognitions. More work needs to be done, perhaps using physiological measurements, to understand the spectrum of emotions and feelings that is gradually coming to "light" through research in this area. From this study we know that advertisements containing status appeals and depicting affluent and desirable lifestyles generate self reported physiological arousal and the emotions of power and envy.

Product information strategies generate analytic cognitions and discourage the occurrence of prosocial emotions. On the other hand, family appeals generate prosocial emotions and discourage reptilian feelings. These findings appear intuitively plausible and are in keeping with theoretical expectations and prior research. For instance, these findings corroborate the Fishbein model of reasoned action in which beliefs generate active information processing and they also indicate that classical conditioning strategies, such as family appeals, produce ad induced affect, i.e. affect induced from the executional elements in the ad.

Most importantly, there is considerable evidence in this study that analytic and syncretic cognitions mediate the effect of advertising strategies on proven measures of ad effectiveness such as liking for the ad and whether the ad is effective in terms of buying the product. None of the ad strategies were directly related to liking or buying, yet all were directly related to analytic and syncretic cognitions which, in turn, were almost always related to either or both liking and buying (see Figure 1). These findings corroborate the work of Holbrook and Batra (1987) and the present study extends their findings in the context of a larger number of ads, ads from both television and print, both analytic and syncretic cognitions and a rigorous causal modelling approach which simultaneously examines the effect of advertising strategies on a number of dependent variables.

In addition, the inclusion of the reptilian dimension substantially increases the range of affective responses that are usually considered to be relevant in advertising. This new category of responses may have special significance for advertising practitioners. Although advertising research has emphasized affect and cognition in forced exposure situations, the reality is that most actual advertising is conducted in situations of very low involvement (television viewing, for example) that may be more amenable to persuasion without the intervention of cognitive and attitudinal mediators. The results of this study show that even in forced exposure situations, reptilian types of evoked affect are not related to attitudinal measures of advertising effectiveness. Although there is no attempt in the present study to examine the further mechanisms by which reptilian feelings and desires may obtain their effect, nevertheless, it is the contribution of this paper to draw attention to the reptilian brain which may play a significant role in the advertising process.


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