Conspiracy theories into art

From the New York Times:

“Global Networks,” an exhibition of [Mark Lombardi’s] delicate filigree drawings that map his version of the flow of global capital. In these works, solid and broken lines, circles and squiggles enmesh the names of organizations and individuals in webs of often surprising interconnections. One drawing charts the workings of the Vatican Bank, in the process linking its directors to the Mafia and the illegal transport of firearms.

Another purports to show how Iraq was armed in the 1980’s through a secret scheme supposedly involving the top levels of the American and British governments and Italy’s largest bank, the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. Yet another follows the course by which the Bank of Commerce and Credit, International (B.C.C.I.) was accused of having become a funnel for a variety of illegal operations, including laundering drug money, supporting the Iran-Contra operation and backing Afghan Mujahedeen fighters.

Lombardi died, a suicide, at 48 in March 2000.

The exhibition is here.

Cads: great for sex, but not for marriage

“NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – New research confirms what romance novelists have known for years: for brief affairs, women tend to prefer a dominating, powerful and promiscuous man.

However, when considering a long-term relationship, women are more likely to turn to a compassionate, sensitive and monogamous man, the report indicates.

When given descriptions of these two male archetypes, described by the researchers as “cads” and “dads,” women consistently preferred a dad as a long-term partner. However, as the relationship shortened, women became more likely to opt for being with a cad.

In a telling example, 60% of women said they would prefer to have sex with one cad-like character, but only 13% said they would want him engaged to their daughters.

Despite the apparent appeal of cads to women, study author Dr. Daniel J. Kruger of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor advised men against trying to adopt the “dark horse” persona.

Cads are often men in positions of power and leadership, such as the heads of companies or sports superstars, he said. Only a minority of men fall into that category, and being a dominant, highly successful and promiscuous man is hard to fake, he cautioned.

“Not every guy can be a successful cad,” Kruger told Reuters Health. “You’re not going to get a lot of matings by acting like a jerk.”


Neuroscience measure the power of branding

In the series of TV commercials from the 70’s and 80’s that pitted Coke against Pepsi in a blind taste test, Pepsi was usually the winner. So why…did Coke appeal so strongly to so many people if it didn’t taste any better?

Over several months this past summer, [a neuroscientist called Read Montague] set to work looking for a scientifically convincing answer. He assembled a group of test subjects and, while monitoring their brain activity with an M.R.I. machine, recreated the Pepsi Challenge. His results confirmed those of the TV campaign: Pepsi tended to produce a stronger response than Coke in the brain’s ventral putamen, a region thought to process feelings of reward. (Monkeys, for instance, exhibit activity in the ventral putamen when they receive food for completing a task.) Indeed, in people who preferred Pepsi, the ventral putamen was five times as active when drinking Pepsi than that of Coke fans when drinking Coke.

In the real world, of course, taste is not everything. So Montague tried to gauge the appeal of Coke’s image, its ”brand influence,” by repeating the experiment with a small variation: this time, he announced which of the sample tastes were Coke. The outcome was remarkable: almost all the subjects said they preferred Coke. What’s more, the brain activity of the subjects was now different. There was also activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that scientists say governs high-level cognitive powers. Apparently, the subjects were meditating in a more sophisticated way on the taste of Coke, allowing memories and other impressions of the drink — in a word, its brand — to shape their preference.

Measuring brand influence might seem like an unusual activity for a neuroscientist, but Montague is just one of a growing breed of researchers who are applying the methods of the neurology lab to the questions of the advertising world…”neuromarketers”. MORE