Brain Activity Forecasts Video Engagement in an Internet Attention Market

Brain Activity Forecasts Video Engagement in an Internet Attention Market

By
Lester C. Tong, M. Yavuz Acikalin, Alexander Genevsky, Baba Shiv, Brian Knutson
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. March
2020, Vol. 117, Issue 12, Pages 6936–6941

The growth of the internet has spawned new “attention markets,” in which people devote increasing amounts of time to consuming online content, but the neurobehavioral mechanisms that drive engagement in these markets have yet to be elucidated. We used functional MRI (FMRI) to examine whether individuals’ neural responses to videos could predict their choices to start and stop watching videos as well as whether group brain activity could forecast aggregate video view frequency and duration out of sample on the internet (i.e., on youtube.com.

Brain activity during video onset predicted individual choice in several regions (i.e., increased activity in the nucleus accumbens [NAcc] and medial prefrontal cortex [MPFC] as well as decreased activity in the anterior insula [AIns]). Group activity during video onset in only a subset of these regions, however, forecasted both aggregate view frequency and duration (i.e., increased NAcc and decreased AIns) — and did so above and beyond conventional measures. These findings extend neuroforecasting theory and tools by revealing that activity in brain regions implicated in anticipatory affect at the onset of video viewing (but not initial choice) can forecast time allocation out of sample in an internet attention market.