Bioethics Blogs

Consumer Neuroscience vs. Skepticism: An Inside Look at the Challenges of a Novel Field

By Ibrahima E. Diallo

Neuromarketing image courtesy of flickr user cmcbrown 
A few years ago, I read a New York Times article that really caught my attention. The article detailed the emergence of a technique that would allow marketers to “make ads that whisper to the brain.” The notion that researchers could probe my mind seemed like an exciting yet frightening proposition. As I read the article, it piqued my interest to learn more about “neuromarketing.”

What is neuromarketing and how does it work?
Consumer Neuroscience, also commonly referred to as Neuromarketing, is a relatively novel field, which uses neurophysiological techniques, such as brain imaging and electroencephalography, in order to gain insight on the decision-making process of the consumer. Consumer Neuroscience often utilizes not only brain imaging techniques, but also biometrics to gather data related to consumer behavior and decision-making (Ariely & Berns 2010). The data collected is used to gauge cognitive interest, memory activation, and emotional engagement in consumers to advertising stimuli; these data are used to optimize the advertisements and advertisement-related materials (Trabulsi et al. 2015). One way neuroimaging data for consumers is used is to shorten commercial advertisements to the parts that are the most impactful and engaging components to the consumer; this is an approach that saves a lot of money for company advertising campaigns since commercial slots can be costly (Trabulsi et al. 2015).

The field’s reliance on neuroimaging technology, and electroencephalography (EEG) has raised many questions about the validity of the research methodology. Neuromarketing has been the subject of controversy among neuroscientists and ethicists (Murphy et al.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.