by Lori Cortez and Kristina Woods Butler
Professor Links Brain Reactions to Marketing Tactics
New equipment in the Rawls College of Business, marketing department allows PANIL researchers to quantitatively assess brain functions while individuals perform cognitive tasks.
Brain activity, oxygen, and optical imaging are terms someone might expect to hear in a science building, not a business college, but Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business marketing department has brought a new meaning to its research through these words.
Shannon Rinaldo, assistant professor of marketing at the Rawls College of Business, received a $55,000 grant from a private donor to fund the new Physiological and Neurological Imaging Laboratory (PANIL).
The grant enabled the lab to purchase an fNIR (functional near infrared) device. Relatively new to the market, this device allows functional near-infrared imaging at the frontal lobes to measure oxygen level changes. Rinaldo said the device produces different results, unlike the past research where individuals were asked in a survey how they felt about a certain product or logo.
“We can give people decision tasks or emotional tasks, and actually see where in the brain the activation is occurring,” Rinaldo said.
According to BIOPAC, the manufacturer of fNIR, the equipment allows researchers to quantitatively assess brain functions – such as attention, memory, planning and problem solving – while individuals perform cognitive tasks.
PANILs fNIR equipment records frontal lobe activity allowing researchers to study cognitive load and engagement of subjects.
Rinaldo explained the research allows her and her colleagues the opportunity to see whether people are really experiencing anxiety, nervousness or fear when viewing different marketing stimuli such as advertisements or commercials.
“The beautiful thing about this equipment is we have one computer that can present stimuli – so a commercial or a logo – and while those stimuli are being flashed on the screen, the other computer is measuring those physiological responses,” Rinaldo said.
Researchers are currently working on several projects in the lab, including studying how taste memory is encoded and recalled by inexperienced and experienced wine drinkers.
“We’re looking at whether or not different types of wine drinkers are able to more easily predict sweet versus dry, and we’re looking at whether or not they encode information differently,” said Rinaldo. “So people who are inexperienced wine drinkers versus experienced wine drinkers may undergo more cognitive load – it might be more difficult for them to encode memory and retrieve memory of wine tastes.
Another study that Rinaldo and fellow researchers recently presented at a conference at the Academy of Marketing Science looks at experiential education through the use of an online marketing simulator that mimics real world situations. Students are asked to make decisions based on these situations. In turn, researchers are able to examine the cognitive load and engagement of students by looking at the decisions they make and the frontal lobe activity recorded with the fNIR.
At the Physiological and Neural Imaging Laboratory, professor Shannon Rinaldo studies fNIR data collected from subjects.
“When there is more activity in certain areas of the frontal lobe, it tells us something about how much the student has to be involved, and how much thinking and oxygen is required for the thinking capacity,” said Rinaldo. “So we can look at specific decisions and their physiological reactions to those decisions and determine, for example, that on one decision they were really applying themselves, but on another decision they weren’t. Then we can actually compare whether or not they are making good decisions, and correlate the success of those decisions with how much they were involved and how hard they were thinking.”
With a background in physiological research, Rinaldo believes her education will enable her to expand the quality of her research, as well as the research of graduate students and colleagues. She also said the new equipment enables experimental research only a few universities in the nation have the opportunity to conduct.
“I think it can go a long way for recruiting new faculty, recruiting new graduate students, and it lays the foundation for future grant applications and grant money,” Rinaldo said.
Rinaldo said new opportunities will present themselves as Texas Tech works its way into becoming a Tier One research university.
“As we move into Tier One status and move further into the research realm, I believe we will see a lot more collaboration across campus and across universities in this area,” she said.
Data have been collected and are currently being analyzed. The lab will eventually move to another location when construction of the new Rawls College of Business is completed.
Shannon Rinaldo is an assistant professor of marketing and PANIL director in the Rawls College of Business, where she teaches consumer behavior to undergraduates. Rinaldo’s research centers on sensory and perceptual processes in the marketplace, biological psychology theory for understanding consumers and the unique experiences of consumers with disabilities. Her research has been published in several scholarly journals.
Rinaldo joined the faculty at Texas Tech in Fall 2008. She holds a doctorate and master's in business administration as well as a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Kentucky. In April 2011 she was given the President's Award of Excellence for her commitment to innovation and student learning.
Lori Cortez is a media relations intern in the Office of Communications & Marketing at Texas Tech University. Cortez is an undergraduate student in the College of Business. Kristina Woods Butler is Associate Director of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Video produced by Scott Irlbeck, Office of Communications & Marketing. Photos courtesy Shannon Rinaldo and Neal Hinkle.