Researchers with the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center have published a study claiming that children’s brain scans registered increased activation in the orbitofrontal precortex and inferior prefrontal cortex when the subjects were shown familiar food logos. Amanda Bruce, et al., “Branding and a child’s brain: an fMRI study of neural responses to logos,” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, September 2012. The study’s authors apparently used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with 17 healthy-weight children to gauge their neural reactions to 60 food and 60 non-food logos as opposed to a baseline image created to approximate the logos’ visual properties of color composition and brightness.

“Food logos compared to baseline were associated with increased activation in orbitofrontal cortex and inferior prefrontal cortex,” concluded the report. “Compared to nonfood logos, food logos elicited increased activation in the posterior cingulate cortex. Results confirmed that food logos activate some brain regions in children known to be associated with motivation.”

The study’s authors urge further investigation into how children respond “at the neural level” to marketing efforts. “Food logos may attract children’s attention more than non-food logos,” they remarked. “This is significant considering the vast majority of foods marketed to children are for unhealthy, calorically dense foods... However, results from this preliminary study should not be interpreted using reverse inference, but instead used to guide future studies. Researchers should directly compare neural responses to food logos compared to actual images of food.”