A group of neuroscientists have tapped into the brains of Kiwis to find out how they respond to reading a newspaper.

Conducted by Neuro Insight Australia, the research saw a group of 120 New Zealanders don lycra caps fitted with felt sensors placed strategically on different points of the skull to measure cognitive function as they paged through the paper or watched the telly.

These sensors picked up tiny electrical signals made when the brain's 100 billion neurons communicated during the experiment.

Neuro Insight chair professor Richard Silberstein took particular interest in which hemisphere of the brain was activated at different times during the study, explaining that left-brain hemisphere has a bias for remembering detailed information, while the right side processes "global features" such as sound tracks, the underlying emotion in someone's voice or a picture of scenery.


By tracking the responses in the respective hemispheres, Silberstein was able to get a sense of when the brain's memory-storing function kicked into gear. This is important because the things we remember are the ones we are most likely to talk about or buy in a store once we leave the paper or the TV.

Memory was highly selective, Silberstein told the Herald.

Newspaper readers were shown to be highly engaged. Photo / File
Newspaper readers were shown to be highly engaged. Photo / File

"People don't remember every single experience they've ever had in their entire life. The brain knows what is important for you and then it stores it."

The results showed that when people read a newspaper they were far more focused, with higher levels of emotional intensity in both the stories and the advertising than while they were watching TV.

The combined effect of reading the paper and watching the TV had an even bigger impact on the long-term memory.

"Memory encoding has been validated to drive sales and behaviour change so it's a very important measure in terms of determining [advertising] effectiveness," Silberstein said.

The study - commisioned by News Works, which represents New Zealand publishers including NZME - showed that when TV advertising was seen before the newspaper advertising, the newspaper's capability to drive long-term memory encoding increased by 26 per cent. And if the product had a strong creative campaign running across both platforms, the long-term memory encoding increased by a startling 37 per cent.

Research organisation Neuro-Insight Australia tapped into the brains of 120 New Zealanders. Photo / File
Research organisation Neuro-Insight Australia tapped into the brains of 120 New Zealanders. Photo / File

The results of this study extend well beyond the 120 people wearing lycra caps in the neuroscience lab, offering a broader insight into the minds of the 1.72 million New Zealanders who read the print and online versions of the Herald every week, according to Nielsen research. Not to mention, the 530,000 reading the Weekend Herald right now and the further 315,000 reading our revamped Canvas mag.


News Works CEO Brian Hill said he was thrilled with the results- they confirmed what the industry had always believed.

"The neuro-analytics showed that when people read a newspaper they gave their full attention to both the articles and the advertisements, and that it was therefore one of the most effective forms of advertising."

News Works partnered with the Marketing Association of New Zealand to host events last week in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to share the key findings from the New Zealand study with marketers and agencies.

"We first became aware of the growing interest in neuroscience late last year when we learned of a UK study which had contributed towards the marketing community starting to rethink how they approach their buying of digital media," Hill said.

The UK study showed that people who viewed advertising on premium news sites were far more likely to store advertising to their long-term memory than when people viewed advertising on social media.

And on that note, we'd like to thank you for keeping us in your memories – even if you aren't wearing a lycra cap.