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For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday, February 12, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Voters' minds: A headline with an article in Sunday's Section A about technologies designed to examine the subconscious of the electorate said that neurologists were involved in the pursuit. It is neuroscientists who are employing the technologies.
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SAN FRANCISCO--Wearing electrode-studded headbands to track their brain waves, two subjects watched the campaign commercial on a monitor in front of them.
Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, clutching a microphone as she spoke to an approving crowd, promised that people in need would never be "invisible" to her.
When the volunteers heard "invisible," the equipment registered a jolt of electricity in their frontal lobes.
"It got their attention," said Brad D. Feldman, an analyst for EmSense Corp., which conducted the test at its headquarters in a converted warehouse here.
Campaigns have always wanted to looked inside voters' heads. This election season, neuroscience is making that possible.
Arguing that the brain reveals more than spoken answers to questions, a new breed of campaign consultants known as neuromarketers is hawking cutting-edge technologies that they believe can peer into the subconscious of the electorate.
The companies have already used their technologies to test commercials for beverages, video games, software, cellphones and other consumer items. Advertising Age, the marketing bible, has identified neuromarketing as one of the year's top industry trends.
"People are always searching for better ways to test advertising," said veteran Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, who helped run Rep. Richard A. Gephardt's 1988 presidential campaign. "The truth is that it is very difficult sometimes to gauge the effectiveness of political advertising before it goes on the air."
Each of the companies employs different technologies, largely adapted from medical research -- pupil dilation, eye gaze and brain activity using a functional MRI scanner. EmSense's device tracks changes in brain waves, blinking, breathing and body temperature -- reactions that might indicate attention, boredom or emotional arousal. The headband transmits its information to a computer that uses a mathematical formula to determine whether the viewer's subconscious response was positive or negative.None of the companies has landed a job with a presidential candidate, and some experts question whether the technology is any better than the usual political crystal-ball gazing.
But given the high stakes of the campaign, experts say that even a slim possibility of tapping voters' inner thoughts may be too tantalizing to pass up.
"At the end of the day, consumer goods and candidates are both products," said EmSense cofounder Tim Hong.
The idea that candidates can be promoted like mouthwash -- and that voters can be manipulated like shoppers -- dates back at least to Richard Nixon's successful campaign, detailed in Joe McGinnis' book "The Selling of the President 1968."
In steps that seem elementary now, Nixon's handlers shot separate ads for Southern districts and Northeastern cities, and figured out how to make their candidate appear more relaxed in front of the camera. Since then, research techniques such as focus groups, scripted surveys and data mining have become standard campaign tools.