Combining a semantic differential with fMRI to investigate brands as cultural symbols

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Traditionally, complex cultural symbols like brands are investigated with psychological approaches. Often this is done by using semantic differentials, in which participants are asked to rate a brand regarding different pairs of adjectives. Only recently, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been used to examine brands. In the current work we used fMRI in combination with a semantic differential to cross-validate both methods and to improve the characterization of the basic factors constituting the semantic space. To this end we presented pictures of brands while recording subject's brain activity during an fMRI experiment. Results of the semantic differential arranged the brands in a semantic space illustrating their relationships to other cultural symbols. FMRI results revealed activation of the medial prefrontal cortex for brands that loaded high on the factor social competence, suggesting an involvement of a cortical network associated with social cognitions. In contrast, brands closely related to the factor potency showed decreased activity in the superior frontal gyri, possibly related to working memory during task performance. We discuss the results as a different engagement of the prefrontal cortex when perceiving brands as cultural symbols.

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