Brains of Apple fanboys respond to brand like religion, says neuroscience

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"Let's fleece those rubes! Woooooo!"

“UK neuroscientists suggested that the brains of Apple devotees are stimulated by Apple imagery in the same way that the brains of religious people are stimulated by religious imagery.”
But you already knew this, right? Why else would Apple stores look like austere temples, replete with the graven idols of 30″ Cinema Displays and iPhones perched upon pedestals like holy statuary.

While it’s easy (and fun) to mock the world’s most fetishized partial objects, the cold hard truth is that enthusiasts’ reactions to Apple are no different than the reactions to other mega-brands among their followers. Apple is just much better at this kind of marketing than anyone else.

Fans' brains change color to match their beloved Apple products.

The statement of the neuroscientists and the image above come from a BBC documentary called Secrets of the Superbrands. The documentary discusses the ability of certain world-renown brands to elicit euphoric or devoted response from consumer, and the psychology and neuroscience behind it. The documentary attempts to conclude that “it’s by tapping into our basic needs, like gossip, religion or sex that these brands are taking over our world at such lightning speed,” but that seems to gloss over what is really happening.

I suspect that what makes certain brands achieve this particular status is their ability to disguise or hide the pedestrian technical details of their products in favor of deliver a more potent and magical message: there is something you, the consumer, want to become-more popular more connected, more trendy, more cool, and these products give you the illusion of achieving that. I say it’s an illusion because the reality is that rather than bringing the consumer closer to achieving that fantasy, the product intercedes and mediates the consumers relationship to that fantasy, teasing it, but never delivering.

That’s the essence of commodity fetishism, and that’s what these megabrands deliver to their fans. That’s what religion delivers to believers as well. We constantly and repeatedly promise you heaven, but not yet, and only according to our system of rules.

And that’s why both groups are deeply devoted, emotionally invested, and impervious to rational argument.

Related posts:

  1. The iPad and the Death of Techno-fetishism
  2. How powerful are the brand labels?

21 Responses to Brains of Apple fanboys respond to brand like religion, says neuroscience

  1. Dan Dravot says:

    I’d question the “disguise or hide the pedestrian technical details” part as a general feature of consumer-product cults: There are very intense product cults around Linux, and around the innumerable variants of the M1911 pistol, which is essentially the Linux of firearms (but at Mac-like prices; WTF?!). There’s also a user-cult around the abnormally complicated programming language Perl. These cults explicitly fetishize the obscurity and complexity of the fetish objects.

    Then there’s Ford and Chevy enthusiasts, VTec fanboys, etc. etc. None of those cars are any more or less user-friendly than any other AFAIK.

    I think there’s an element of choosing a totem animal in these cults. Do you want a totem animal that signifies technical mastery? Or social and aesthetic mastery? And they seem to have a lot of time on their hands. And people derive satisfaction, for some reason, from digging a six foot trench of ego defenses around something utterly unrelated to them, filling it with gasoline, and circling the wagons. Hey, it’s healthier than raiding the next village and burning their crops.

    There’s an ad at the bottom of this page for some kind of New Age gibberish called “Quantum Jumping”. It appears to be a sort of Heisenbergian spiritual exercise regime. Maybe the Linux kids could try that for a while. Welcome to the Infinite You!

  2. Commodity fetishism is religion, so it’s not surprising that this is true. I don’t think it’s unique to Apple– any superbrand that people consciously use for their own branding is going to take the place of religion, especially if they don’t have an actual religion to fill that spot. I think that humans are wired for some level of devotional/mystical/”I am part of something untangible.”

    All of that is an interesting topic in its own right; but for the purposes of this discussion, it’s all bunk. They scanned one single guy, who may be a serial killer, and the researcher found “enhanced activity in the visual cortex” and “much more visual attention to the Apple products.” WOW.

    The religious people weren’t involved in this study. but in older studies religious people were shown religious symbols, and (only one of) the areas activated were similar to the Apple nut’s. But that just tests your response to symbols you like, not religious feelings.

    Which makes this entire article a lie, a deception. Which, of course, makes it branding.

  3. JohnJ says:

    Remember the commercials? “I’m a Mac.” “And I’m a P.C.” The implication was always “which one are you?” Are you cool like us or are you one of them?

    There’s really no difference between going to church and listening to talk radio. Or frequenting a blog, I guess.

    People identify themselves in all kinds of ways. Environmentalism isn’t a political issue, it’s a moral issue, according to Al Gore. This is why people take it so personally when you challenge their conservatism (or progressivism). You’re attacking who they are as a person.

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  9. anteaters says:

    I think Steve Jobs is well aware of this effect and uses it to great advantage. I’ve long been fascinated by the seemingly religious level of fanaticism people have for the Apple brand. I created this song/video examining the phenomenon of the Jobs cult – you might find it entertaining.

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