I’ve been hearing a lot recently about the science of ‘neuromarketing’ and how it can be used to influence what you or I are predisposed to read/click/buy what’s put in front of us based on a deeper understanding of our minds. Friends of mine in the design industry are now reading books like Susan Weinschenk’s Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?, a surprisingly digestible read in which within five minutes of opening the cover I learnt that I actually have three brains, not just the single solitary brain that I was told about at school, and that, contrary to Feminist dogma, all three of these brains are in my skull. So it is with interest that I direct you to the cover of this recent edition of New Scientist:

How does the cover feel to you? It features what the journalists of New Scientist believe to be a world-first. The cover of the magazine was created in using the principles of neuromarketing, which they describe as:

“a marriage of market research and neuroscience that uses brain-imaging technology to peek into people’s heads and discover what they really want.”

The process of peeking into people’s heads in this way required the combination of an Electroencephalograph (EEG) recording the subjects brain activity whilst eye-monitoring equipment follows that persons focus whilst they are exposed to specific visual stimuli. New Scientist created the diagram below to illustrate how they used this process to select their chosen cover design: So can neuromarketing, as some may fear, give marketers the tools to create advertising which can manipulate the consumers mind into purchasing products that they don’t necessarily want? The term ‘neuromarketing’ was first coined by Ale Smidts, Professor of Marketing Research at the Rotterdam School of Management, in 2002 and is still a fairly new area of research. In 2003, Dr. Read Montague, director of the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Baylor University, decided to revisit the classic ‘blind taste test’ between Pepsi and Coke, but with the addition of an Magnetic Resonance Imager (MRI) to round out the scientific understanding of the factors in play. When his test subjects gave their taste preference, without knowing which sample was which, roughly fifty percent said that they preferred the sample that was actually Pepsi. However, once told that their sample was Coke, seventy-five percent said they preferred the taste of Coke. The correlating MRI scans of the test subjects showed that their neural activity changed once the subject was aware of their¬† sample’s brand. When they were told that they were drinking Coke the medial prefrontal cortex lit up like a fireworks display, something which failed to happen when the test subjects were told that they were drinking Pepsi. Despite his test subjects equal enjoyment of both samples when they were unaware of the difference, the resultant effect on their preference¬† once the brands themselves were introduced caused Dr. Montague to conclude that the brains of his test subjects were recalling their emotional associations with Coca Cola and that their positive feelings for the brand itself was the strongest deciding element in their choice-making.

So the short answer would appear to be no; neuromarketing does not have the ability to grant advertising agencies magical powers to seduce you into making purchases that you don’t want to make. But the possibility of a more fully integrated understanding of the neural processes that occur in response to individual brand associations could¬† lead to a more effective dialogue between producers and consumers. Follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with new posts.