When pizza and a starlet compete for attention


When both food and a sexy starlet appear in a television commercial, pizza stirs up more brain activity, but increased stimulation from either doesn’t necessarily boost sales.

Ads trigger a battle within the brain, said Joshua Freedman, M.D. ’88, associate clinical professor at the UCLA Jane & Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He conducted fMRI studies on subjects watching Pizza Hut commercials and found that shots of food “dominate” despite scenes of the scantily clad Jessica Simpson.

“Food tends to produce lots of activity in different parts of the brain,” Freedman told an audience at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in October. The orbitofrontal portion of the prefrontal cortex typically associated with emotional connection may light up; however, the insula, which produces the sensation of disgust (perhaps at the idea that pizza is fattening), is also activated. “The battle is drawn, but it is unclear which region of the brain will win out,” Freedman said.

Advertisers know how to get attention, but there is bad attention as well as good, he said. “At the very least, if they saw these results they’d probably stop paying for expensive models.”

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  • Neuroscience
  • Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity