Neuromarketing: can science predict (and influence) our purchases?
In the 1950s, two scientists at McGill University accidentally discovered an area of the rodent brain now known as ‘the pleasure centre’. Given the opportunity to stimulate their own pleasure centres via a lever-activated electrical current, a group of rats pressed the lever over and over again, going without food and sleep, until many of them died from exhaustion.
Most humans are a little more complex than rats but we are still largely motivated by what makes us feel good, especially in relation to purchasing choices. In light of this, many major corporations are taking a special interest in understanding customers through the mechanics of the human brain. This is the emerging but fast-growing field of ‘neuromarketing’, which uses brain-tracking tools to determine why people prefer some products over others.
There’s room for plenty of good research here. The main take-away point that can be had in marketing is that, without any direct meddling with the appropriate parts of the brain, humans will make choices based on what they perceive in the moment will make them feel good, which can be entirely different from what will make them actually feel best. Manipulation without having electrodes in the appropriate brain spots is technically highly limited and really only effective if people are unaware that they’re being manipulated. Therefore, while this research may shed some interesting light on how we make choices and how the brain actually functions when making immediate decisions (Ie, between Coca-Cola and Pepsi), the fact of the matter seems to be, from my perspective, is that short of making everyone remote controlled, there will be no way to have a complete monopoly over someone’s actions. Even if you have people wired up and biologically under someone elses’ control, we don’t know if that would be a sustainable practice as things can change within the individual human brain that we won’t be able to predict. Thus, people can, potentially, even break free from direct brain control (even though they’ll probably emerge as highly traumatized individuals in need of considerable amounts of care afterward).
Therefore, this may not be the most profitable line of research for the marketing companies. However, it will shed light on what’s going on inside that “black box” we call the human brain when it is thinking about all kinds of decisions that it could be making and how it arrives, on the individual and collective level, at the conclusions that it arrives at. They may be able to make ads more generally (but not totally) appealing. But the more that I’ve personally learned about the brain and how it works, the more willing I am to believe that it takes a dialogue, aimed at producing the best psychological (not physiological) results for that person or people in question. If you define your own personal success by how much you’re helping others, and the benefits that you receive from being good onto others, tangible or otherwise, then you’ll be highly successful, I think, in this lifetime or in other lifetimes to come. Again, the universe does not reward the taker’s line of consciousness. It rewards the root giver, who then understands when taking is in the interests of the other and then is willing to take for the other’s sake. It’s a very fine difference. But it’s a very significant one.
Think about it.
See on blogs.bmj.com