An excerpt from Buyology: The Truth and Lies About What We Buy:
… the team leader, Dr. Calvert, presented me with the results. I was, to put it mildly, startled. Even Dr. Calvert was taken aback by the findings: warning labels on the sides, fronts, and backs of cigarette packs had no effect on suppressing the smokers’ cravings at all. Zero. In other words, all those gruesome photographs, government regulations, billions of dollars some 123 countries had invested in nonsmoking campaigns, all amounted, at the end of a day, to, well, a big waste of money
“Are you sure?” I kept saying.
“Pretty damn certain,” she replied, adding that the statistical validity was as solid as could be. But this wasn’t half as amazing as what Dr. Calvert discovered once she analyzed the results further. Cigarette warnings—whether they informed smokers they were at risk of contracting emphysema, heart disease, or a host of other chronic conditions—had in fact stimulated an area of the smokers’ brains called the nucleus accumbens, otherwise known as “the craving spot.” This region is a chain-link of specialized neurons that lights up when the body desires something—whether it’s alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, or gambling. When stimulated, the nucleus accumbens requires higher and higher doses to get its ﬁx.
In short, the fMRI results showed that cigarette warning labels not only failed to deter smoking, but by activating the nucleus accumbens, it appeared they actually encouraged smokers to light up. We couldn’t help but conclude that those same cigarette warning labels intended to curb smoking, reduce cancer, and save lives had instead become a killer marketing tool for the tobacco industry.
Most of the smokers checked off yes when they were asked if warning labels worked—maybe because they thought it was the right answer, or what the researchers wanted to hear, or maybe because they felt guilty about what they knew smoking was doing to their health. But as Dr. Calvert concluded later, it wasn’t that our volunteers felt ashamed about what smoking was doing to their bodies; they felt guilty that the labels stimulated their brains’ craving areas. It was just that their conscious minds couldn’t tell the difference. Marlene hadn’t been lying when she filled out her questionnaire. But her brain—the ultimate no- bullshit zone—had adamantly contradicted her. Just as our brains do to each one of us every single day.
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