Hemispheric Lateralization: the Relationship of Processing Orientation With Judgement and Recall Measures For Print Advertisements

ABSTRACT - Studies of hemispheric lateralization have identified that certain types of mental processes occur differentially in the left versus right hemispheres or the brain. The left hemisphere is more specialized for the processing or information sequentially, verbally, and logically while the right hemisphere operates spatially, intuitively, and holistically. Differences ln the extent to which individuals emphasize certain forms of processing has led to the development of a taxonomy which characterizes integrated, mixed, right-dominant, and left-dominant information processors. Results of a study or individuals categorized within this taxonomy indicate that those readily engaging both hemispheres during processing (integrated processors) demonstrate greater overall recall or the verbal and visual portions or a series of print advertisements when compared to individuals preferring a more modality specific form of processing. Results for affective and cognitive reactions to the advertisements were mixed, but were consistent in direction with the memory predictions.


Susan E. Heckler and Terry L. Childers (1987) ,"Hemispheric Lateralization: the Relationship of Processing Orientation With Judgement and Recall Measures For Print Advertisements", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 46-50.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Pages 46-50


Susan E. Heckler, Duke University

Terry L. Childers, University of Minnesota


Studies of hemispheric lateralization have identified that certain types of mental processes occur differentially in the left versus right hemispheres or the brain. The left hemisphere is more specialized for the processing or information sequentially, verbally, and logically while the right hemisphere operates spatially, intuitively, and holistically. Differences ln the extent to which individuals emphasize certain forms of processing has led to the development of a taxonomy which characterizes integrated, mixed, right-dominant, and left-dominant information processors. Results of a study or individuals categorized within this taxonomy indicate that those readily engaging both hemispheres during processing (integrated processors) demonstrate greater overall recall or the verbal and visual portions or a series of print advertisements when compared to individuals preferring a more modality specific form of processing. Results for affective and cognitive reactions to the advertisements were mixed, but were consistent in direction with the memory predictions.


Research in such diverse fields as neurology, cognitive psychology, human resources management and consumer behavior has explored the topic or hemispheric lateralization - the notion that certain types or mental processes occur differentially in the left versus right hemispheres of the brain. Neurologists and physiological psychologists were first to examine the phenomenon, by studying the effects of unilateral brain damage, or the surgically induced intersection of the two halves of the brain. This research indicates that, while one hemisphere can sustain an individual, as normal maturation occurs, the left and right hemispheres develop specialized functions (Bogen 1969; Sperry 1975). Sperry (1975), for example, showed that if an object was placed out Of sight, in a "split-brain" person's left hand, it could not be named by the subJect. Alternatively, if the same object was presented to the subJect's left visual field (processed in the right hemisphere), the subject could successfully pick up a similar item with the left hand. So, although the information processed in the right hemisphere could not be verbalized, the existence of some symbolic processing was evidenced.

This specialization has also been shown to occur in normal individuals, in whom constant communication occurs between the two hemispheres. Using analyses or electroencephalograms (EEGS) Doktor (1978), for example, showed that an intuitive, spatial problem solving task generated more right brain activity than did a problem requiring logical, verbal skills. In summarizing the types or processes occurring in each hemisphere, Ornstein (1973) states that the left hemisphere processes sequentially, verbally and logically, while the right hemisphere operates spatially, intuitively and holistically. Support for this differentiation has been presented more recently. For example, Springer (1979), reports left brain superiority for tasks involving verbal stimuli such as words or nonsense syllables, and for tasks involving fine temporal discriminations. Also, a substantial body of psychological research examining lateralization as it relates to mental imagery has been summarized by Ley (1983). He reports consistent and wide ranging evidence of right hemisphere superiority for a variety Of visual and imaginal processing tasks.

In the study conducted by Doktor (1978), professionals or two different categories, business executives versus operations research analysts were studied. In addition to the finding reported above, Doktor also found that overall, the analysts tended to use less right hemisphere processing than did the executives, regardless Of the task they performed. His conclusion regarding this phenomenon was that processing style was conditioned by education and experience, although also affected by the type of task with which individuals are raced. Processing style or cognitive style pertains to an individual's preferred strategy for seeking meaning (Furse and Greenberg 1975) and in this study relates directly to a preference for engaging in one form or another of processing that favors the encoding Of visual and/or verbal consumption oriented information (Childers, Houston and Heckler 1985).

The notion or hemispheric processing style or preference has subsequently been studied by a number or human resource management professionals. Conclusions reached by management specialists such as Herrmann (1981) and Lynch (1982), in their work regarding the effects of lateralization on management style or training, suggest that the best results come from combining the processes associated with each hemisphere. They reveal, however, that the management personnel with whom they work often emphasize left brain processes to the detriment of holistic or spatial thinking. Herrmann (1981) and Taggert and Torrance (1984) have each recently developed a systematic program to identify hemispheric dominance in individuals and to subsequently point out the benefits Of utilizing a flexible style or processing to optimize problem solving capabilities.

An interest in hemispheric lateralization has also emerged in the discipline of consumer behavior. Hansen (1981), following an overview of the lateralization literature, proposed a series of right-left brain processing implications for consumer-oriented attention processes, pictorial/non-verbal communication, effects of mere exposure, involvement and individual differences. He reiterates, for example, Krugman's (1977) suggestion that right-hemispheric processing dominance allows recognition to occur, but recall requires the activation of left-hemispheric verbal processing. Such a situation might be evidenced when only an "early global" level of attention (Broadbent 1977) has occurred with respect to the stimulus--leading to the subJects' ability to recognize but not recall a stimulus ad. Only after a "verification" stage of attention, utilizing left-hemispheric processing, will recallability be present.

Another area which Hansen (1981) suggests might be critically influenced by the differential capabilities of the left versus right hemispheres is the processing of and subsequent effects of pictorial/non-verbal communication elements. Evidence regarding hemispheric processing and pictorial communication is limited, but at present appears to be mixed. Appel, Weinstein and Weinstein (1979) railed to support their hypothesis that television viewing (due to the distinct visual nature of the task) would produce dominant right hemisphere activity, nor did they show that commercials creating higher levels of left brain activity were recalled better. They did show that those ads producing the highest level of activity, regardless of hemisphere, produced the highest levels or recall, perhaps reflecting an integration of the information. Robbins and McAdam (1974) directed subJects to image pictorial material in terms of shapes and colors while instructing other subJects to subvocally describe a scene. In support of lateralization effects, they observed a suppression or alpha waves under the picture condition for the right hemisphere and a similar effect in the left hemisphere for the verbal condition. In a closely related stream of research, Childers, Heckler and Houston (1986) have shown that individuals demonstrating a preference for picture processing exhibit enhanced recall for pictorial elements of print advertisements. Additionally, their study showed a significant relationship existed between their Style of Processing Scale (SOP) and a Hemispheric Lateralization Scale developed by Hirschman ( 1983), with visual processing preferences associated with right hemispheric dominance, and verbal processing preferences associated with left hemisphere dominance.

The purpose of the present study is to further investigate the relationship between hemispheric processing style and the information processing of print advertisements. This study utilizes an individual differences scale first reported by Torrance, et al. (1978) to identify individuals who exhibit dominant processing styles related to one, both or neither of the hemispheres of the brain. Rather than assuming that each individual must be right or left hemisphere dominant, these authors assert that there are four possible classifications or individuals--right or left dominant, mixed (random use Of left or right), and integrated (complimentary use or left and right). By examining subject's processing styles within this four group taxonomy and extending theoretical implications presented by Taggert and Torrance ( 1984) for managerial situations, as well as those offered by Hansen (1981) and Childers, Heckler and Houston (1986) for consumer communication effects, a more comprehensive understanding of the role that individual differences play in the processing Of consumption information can be attained. The discussion which follows presents a study which examines the effects Of hemispheric processing style on Judgement and memory measures Of print advertisements.


Reactions to the Ad

As pointed out by Childers, Heckler and Houston (1986), the development of an attitude toward an advertisement is likely to be based upon the entire advertisement, not Just the pictorial or Just the verbal elements. Information such as the copy/verbally based attributes, their composition, an ad's layout, and graphics should all be relevant to forming an impression or an advertisement. (For a framework explicating Aad formation see Lutz, MacKenzie and Belch 1983). Processing styles related to both verbal and visual communication formats should therefore be pertinent to the formation of ad impressions. Taggert and Torrance's (1984) efforts indicate that processors who are able to utilize both modalities may more effectively encode and utilize both communication formats to accomplish a task. They also speculate that integrated processors will be more effective than mixed processors in performance of tasks, but no evidence is offered to support this idea. Therefore it is hypothesized that:

H1: Information processors using an integrated or mixed strategy of processing will differ from right or left dominant processors in their attitude toward the advertisement and their evaluation of the advertising message.


Previous research has shown that individuals with a preference for visual processing, demonstrated higher levels of picture recall than those indicating a verbal processing preference (Childers, Houston and Heckler 1985; Childers, Heckler and Houston 1986). Appel, Weinstein and Weinstein (1979) however, showed that the highest level Of television ad recall resulted from maximum processing activity in either of the brain's hemispheres. Also, Torrance and Taggert (1984) conclude that the utilization of processes associated with both hemispheres produces optimal effectiveness in managerial problem solving. Finally, Hansen ( 1981) proposes that right hemisphere activity may be related to early stages or attention, whereas left hemisphere activity is required for recall-ability to be demonstrated, thus implicating both hemispheres in the effective processing Of incoming information. This leads to the hypothesis that:

H2: Individuals demonstrating an integrated or mixed form of processing will recall more of the visual and verbal information portions Of advertisements than will left or right dominant processors.

Additionally, as an attempt to further support the findings or Childers, Heckler and Houston (1986), regarding the relationship Of the SOP and modality encoding effects, the following hypothesis is offered regarding right and left dominant processors:

H3: Individuals demonstrating right hemisphere dominance will recall more information from the pictorial portion Of the advertisements than will individuals demonstrating left hemisphere dominance.



Subjects were recruited to participate in the study from second and third year undergraduate courses at a midwestern university. A total of 111 students participated in the study. The study was represented as an investigation of advertisements in their early stages of development. Participants were informed that they would view a series Of ads and would be asked to rate each ad along a number Of different criteria in order to provide advertisers with guidance on how to improve their ads prior to final development. At no time were subjects informed that they would be asked to give any other information, such as individual difference scales or memory tests. Participants were tested outside Of the classroom in groups of from four to eight individuals.


Following the cover story, each subJect was exposed to six advertisements projected onto a screen using 35mm slides. The subJects were instructed to evaluate each ad on a series Of 9-point bipolar rating scales that were explained to them prior to exposure of the first ad. The initial phase of the study thus consisted Of exposure to each or six ads (15 seconds), each followed immediately by exposure to the scales used to perform the ratings (30 seconds). Following a two minute distractor task participants were given ten minutes to complete free recall protocols in which they were asked to write in any order everything they could remember about each ad. The recall form was structured so that subJects listed elements from the picture versus the copy for each ad. Upon completion Of the free recall protocols, subJects were given an aided message test in which they were provided the product classes represented in each ad and asked to write down the main idea(s) or message(s) contained in each ad. Following the recall test, subJects completed a set of individual difference scales including the Taggert and Torrance (1984) and Hirschman (1983) scales Of Hemispheric Lateralization. SubJects were then debriefed and dismissed.

Stimulus Materials

The ads were professionally drawn by a graphic artist, but the layout reflected a "storyboard" appearance. Each ad contained a picture with two major elements and a copy that contained from 24 to 36 words. The pictorial portion of the ads was designed to convey one message about the product while the copy conveyed a second message. For instance, if the picture indicated that the tires contained in the ad were durable the copy emphasized their good value. This way memory could be examined for the message conveyed in the picture versus the copy Of the ads.

Pretests previously conducted on the stimulus materials indicated that the ads were successful in conveying information about these two product attributes (see Childers 1982; and Houston, Childers, and Heckler 1985).


Individual Differences. Two measures Of individual differences in hemispheric lateralization were collected: 1) the Taggert and Torrance Human Information Processing Survey (1984) that taps dominance for engaging in one, both or neither forms of hemispheric processing, and, 2) a 7 item scale developed by Hirschman (1983) again, to assess Hemispheric Lateralization. (Additional individual difference measures were collected which were not pertinent to the present investigation.) The Taggert and Torrance scale consists Of forty items, in the form of three statements from which subJects choose the statement with which they most strongly agree. Extensive efforts to support the validity and reliability Of the instrument have been conducted. For example, seven test/retest reliability studies conducted on the scale produced Pearson correlation coefficients ranging from 0.63 to 0.84 for the right hemisphere scales, 0.55 to 0.86 for the left and 0.65 to 0.84 for the integrated style scales (Taggert and Torrance 1984). Additional reliability data collected by Denny and Wolf (1980) resulted in a Cronbach KR-21 reliability coefficient of 0.84. Construct validity studies have examined the relationship between the results Of the hemispheric lateralization instrument and subjects' problem solving skills (Agor 1983; Bracken, Ledford and McCallum 1979), processing speed and memory encoding (Coleman and Zenhausern 1979), and ratings on other measures (for example, measures Of creativity (Torrance 1982), artistic ability versus mathematic ability (Ghosh 1980)). These studies and many others described in detail by Torrance and Reynolds (1980) generally support the internal consistency, predictive validity and construct validity of the scale.

Dependent Variables. Measures of free recall were based upon the responses to the protocols. An extensive coding format was developed which categorized and described the pictorial and verbal elements of the advertisements. The pictorial descriptors included the main visual objects, plus the message (which had been shown to be communicated by the picture in the pretests described above). Copy descriptors consisted of the brand name and product class along with the message contained in the copy. Thus, each portion of the ad was represented as containing three basic elements. Two trained students independently coded the protocols according to the described categories and demonstrated an inter-coder reliability of .91. Any discrepancies were resolved between the coders before analyses were conducted. The aided recall test consisted Of presenting subJects with product class cues requiring them to indicate brand names and messages) for the appropriate products. The attitude toward the ad measure was taken from Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) and consisted Of four 9-point bipolar scales (good-bad, superior-inferior, unpleasant-pleasant, like-dislike) with a coefficient alpha of 0.90. Three scales were adapted from Cacioppo, Petty, and Morris (1983) to measure message evaluation not at all effective-extremely effective, very well designed-very poorly designed, and very convincing-not at all convincing (alpha - .89), as another measure or Judgement related to the advertisements.


In order to examine the hypotheses forming the basis Of the study, scores from the Taggert and Torrance scale or Human Information Processing were utilized to place subjects into one of tour groups - Right Hemisphere Dominant, Left Hemisphere Dominant, Integrated Style or Mixed Style Of Processing. This categorization produced group sizes of 15 Right Dominant, 11 Left Dominant, 11 Integrated, and 71 demonstrating a Mixed Style Of Processing. This unequal distribution of scores is not unexpected, as a subJect must demonstrate a score above the eighty-fifth percentile on the appropriate scale to be considered right dominant, left dominant or integrated. Following the formation of the groups one-way analyses of variance were (were conducted to test the hypotheses. The results Of these analyses are described in the next sections.

Measures of Hemispheric Lateralization

Table 1 displays a comparison of results obtained using Hirschman's Scale Of Hemispheric Lateralization and the Human Information Processing (HIP) Survey. Mean scores on tile Hirschman scale are reported for each Of the HIP processing style categories. A clear and significant relationship is seen between the two measures, as the Right dominant processors score highest on the Hirschman scale and Left Dominant score lowest. Using an Analysis of variance to evaluate the results, both the overall F-value and the linear trend coefficient are significant at a p < .01 level, where the predicted trend or the scores wag Right > Integrated > Mixed > Left.



Reactions to the Ad

Two evaluation measures, described above, were used to test the hypothesis regarding reactions to the advertisements. Mean scores for each Of the hemispheric processing style groups are displayed in Table 2. For both the attitude toward the ad measure and the message evaluation measure, integrated processors produced the highest mean scale values, however the overall F-values in the one-way ANOVAs were not significant. A post hoc LSD test of differences in means (p < .10) did show that integrated processors produced significantly higher scores on the message evaluation scale than did right dominant or mixed processors, providing weak support for H1. Interestingly, left dominant processors produced the second highest score. This result would be consistent with the notion offered by Hansen (1981) that the evaluation Of the advertisement required more left hemisphere processing. Overall, however, the results do not strongly support the notion that processing style will affect Judgements regarding print advertisements. Future research might examine these evaluation measures when some time delay is introduced between stimulus exposure and ratings, to identify whether processing style is a more dominant force when evaluations are not based upon information held in short term memory.


Table 2 contains the mean number of items recalled from: 1) both the picture and verbal portions Of the ads, 2) the picture portion of the ad, and 3) the verbal portion Of the ad for each of the processing style groups. As predicted in hypothesis 2, the highest level Of recall is exhibited by integrated processors. Significant overall F-values (p < .05) are reported for both total memory and picture memory, and significant linear trend coefficients are found for all three measures Of recall, providing strong support for H2. Additionally, for the memory task, the results support the notion of Taggert and Torrance (1984) that integrated processing is more effective than mixed processing.

The final hypothesis attempted to support the results reported by Childers, Heckler and Houston ( 1986), who found that visually oriented processors, as measured by the SOP, demonstrated higher levels Of picture recall than did left dominant processors. Again, as seen in Table 2, right dominant processors' picture recall (mean - 10.6) was higher than that for verbally oriented processors (mean - 8.9). However, the difference was not significant at the p < .10 level, and so H3 is not supported. Because the trend in means conformed to previous findings, and since so little research has been done to understand the relationship between hemispheric processing style and memory for visual versus verbal elements, future research should continue to examine this area, perhaps by focusing upon specific elements in the picture or copy portions Of the advertisements such as brand name or picture versus copy theme.





Mixed results have been obtained regarding the hypotheses tested in this study or hemispheric lateralization and processing Of print ads. Only weak support has been round for the notion that integrated and mixed processors, because they utilize both modalities or processing, will form different Judgements toward an advertisement than will left or right dominant processors. Also, a previous finding that visually oriented processors recall significantly more of the picture portion Of an ad than do verbally oriented processors, was not replicated. The hypothesis that integrated processors would recall more of an advertisement than right or left dominant processors was supported for three different measures of recall. This finding seems to support ideas presented by management development consultants, that optimization Of problem solving skills (including for example, memory tasks) requires the integrated use of processing strategies based in both hemispheres or the brain. The next section will describe some Of the implications of individual differences in processing style for the development of marketing communications and consumer education.


The recognition that individual differences in processing style may impact on information acquisition, memory and Judgement has several important implications. A preference for processing information that is consistent with the specialized nature of the two hemispheres has implications for the presentation Of consumption information. Identification of a coding preference may necessitate an adaptation of the message to the intended audience. The present research indicates that individuals do vary in style of processing preference and thus indicates another basis upon which a market might be segmented. Such segmentation would carry with it implications for both message design and placement. Integrated and left dominant processors, for example, appear to evaluate the effectiveness of the message differently than others.

Furse and Greenberg (1975) compared a more generalized form of cognitive style to product attitudes and found that style differentiation produced segments that differed with respect to their mass media habits. One segment indicated a preference for print media and demonstrated greater readership or magazines while a second segment was more visually oriented and exhibited greater television viewing behavior. The use of pictures and modelling to create interactive, highly memorable images should be especially important in TV advertising since it is generally considered to be a low involvement medium (Lutz and Lutz 1978). On the other hand, print media because Of its more involving nature, might utilize a strategy whereby the visual and verbal copy might convey different or incongruent product messages (Houston, Childers and Heckler 1985). The latter might be more effective when targeted at segments that utilize more integrative or mixed forms of information processing. Thus, even if processing style is not used as a basis for segmenting a market, knowledge of this orientation is important in guiding message composition and media selection.

Additionally, knowledge of processing style may have important public policy implications as well. Assessing the propensity of consumers to utilize various forms of consumption information could lead 'o programs designed to increase the acquisition skills for those types of information seen as under-utilized. Lundsgaard (as quoted in Hansen 1981) reported that the extent to which a person is left or right brain dominated depends partly on the training they have received. Working with patients with left hemispheric lesions and verbal memory deficients, Patten (1972) was able to improve their mnemonic skills by instructing patients to create vivid and bizarre images. Herrmann (1981), Lynch (1982) and Taggert and Torrance (1984) all assert that by instructing managers to utilize processing strategies associated with both hemispheres, they can optimize both problem solving and interpersonal management skills. Their studies also indicate that an integrative processing style can be acquired or enhanced through educational programs. Similar programs might be designed to assist consumers in developing integrative processing skills, for use in their acquisition and evaluation of consumer information.


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Susan E. Heckler, Duke University
Terry L. Childers, University of Minnesota


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14 | 1987

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