Credit: AMC-TV/The Kobal Collection

Brain activity measured in just a few individuals watching television programmes might predict whether large populations of viewers will find the shows interesting.

Jacek Dmochowski at Stanford University in California and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) or electroencephalography (EEG) activity to follow brain activity in groups of up to 16 young adults watching a previously aired episode of drama programme The Walking Dead (pictured) or advertisements broadcast during American football Super Bowl games.

The extent to which neural responses to the stimuli were shared between the small experimental groups correlated with the amount of social-media activity or positive audience ratings that the broadcasts had originally elicited from large audiences. Such neural reliability may be a useful tool in targeting education or marketing activities to specific groups, the authors suggest.

Nature Commun. 5, 4567 (2014)