Apple-y thoughts apparently inhabit the same part of the brain of Apple fanatics as religious thoughts do in religious folks. Scientists using MRI scanners to see what parts of the brain “lit up” as volunteers viewed Apple imagery found that radical fanboyism is close to a religion in the minds of the afflicted.
The study came as part of a BBC program Secrets of the Superbrands, and centered on Alex Brooks, the editor of World of Apple and a self-professed Apple fanatic. Neuroscientists showed him images of different products in a list that included Apple gear. The same regions of his brain exhibited excited activity when he saw an Apple item as those regions activated when a religious person is shown religious images in the same experiment.
The program includes a semi-conclusion from one of the scientists that suggestes “big tech brands have harnessed, or exploit, the brain areas that have evolved to process religion.” The Bishop of Buckingham–who is both devout and an Apple fan–makes an appearance in the documetary, where he’s shown reading his Bible on an iPad (worship convergence!). The Bishop says Apple’s minimalist Apple stores have pseudo-religious architecture (tallying more with the simple stone and wood motif of Anglican churches than the gilded houses of Catholicism), and the way Apple products are displayed is a little like icons on an altar. Steve Jobs, as the central, charismatic leader always ready with quick, smart words, is a natural messiah.
That said, this study fell short in its scientific approach. Lack of a control in the MRI experiment means we don’t know what happens in the brain of a non-fanatic Apple user. Causation isn’t established either–there’s no evidence to suggest big brands have evolved their campaigns to tap into the religious parts of our cerebrums, and what the experiment actually shows is that a self-professed passionate supporter of one thing (Apple) experiences activity in the same brain regions as passionate supporters of another thing (faith). We’ve known for a while that though there’s no single “God spot” in the brain, and rather that religious thoughts illuminate a number of higher-function parts of the brain–regions also used for working out the intentions of other people, and the emotional meaning of these. That these regions should also be involved when experiencing emotional reactions to non-religious things isn’t a surprise.
But, there’s one huge thing we can learn from this study: Really passionate followers of a brand do seem to experience these “religious” brain functions. So could you actually shape your branding efforts toward a more emotional, inclusive, mysterious, iconic, and clearly identifiable–religious if you will–type of campaign? It sounds like neuromarketing gone crazy (and it already had a pretty wild start to begin with), but you may find yourself with a flock of the faithful ready to buy your products, if you shun some of the traditional corporate distance and coldness.