Neuromarketing – I’ll sell you a brain image.

I teach a course in the psychology of marketing.  It is based on Cialdini’s “influence’, which is a wonderful book – great social psychology that you can apply.  I have a background in advertising, the Aussie does marketing, and we both do Cialdini. 

The course is absolutely wonderful.  I have great students.  Lots of them from Economics.  A whole bunch psychology, and then smattering from other areas, and some returning students (occasionally even older than me!). 

Last fall was that infamous opinion article in The New York times claiming that we loved our i-phones litterally. 

Hmmmmm. Really?  Yes, a buddy of mine waxed poetic about his and reiterated a quote from a friend that boiled down to the only thing you couldn’t do is fuck it (me, being a girl….)  But, no.  The writer based it on the claimed fact (of course, the data is proprietary) that the same area of the brain “lit up” when you look at your i-phone as when you look at someone you love. 


The neurobloggers I follow would have none of it.  And I agree.  We can’t do that kind of reverse inference.  Lots of brain-areas “ligth up”.  And, really, they don’t literally light up.  You get those blogs after some processing and coloring  in of statistically significant differences.  Blobology the professionals call it.

I quickly quickly linked in responses, to disabuse my students of this notion.  I told them about Brain Porn.

And, we realized, the brain imaging themselves are persuasive tools.  Those short-cuts that add persuasiveness to a discussion (it is in the brain, it must be true).  It is a way of selling your work – not a good marketing measure. 

But, it is selling.  The other day, some of the neuroscientists I follow (and who, on occasion, to my delight, follow me back) snorted about this list of neuromarketersAnd Similar.  Selling bridges and swampland came up.

I agree. The man who wrote the I love my iphone editorial had a book out about neuromarketing, which was kinda interesting, but he didn’t quite have the psychology down.  And, clearly he had fallen for the fallacy “if it is in the brain it must be true” – as so many people do.

For some reason there is this frequent opinion that psychology will only be a science when you can see what happens in the brain.  I usually go “ha ha ha ha ha ha ha”, when I hear it. 

The brain works all the time.  The brain slurps up energy all the time.  The brain images are derived DERIVED from slow, one second scans (a second is an eternity in brain time), in a noisy claustrophobic machine.  It is immensely interesting of course, but, really not necessarily more reliable than all the other less sexy measures that psychologists have painstakingly worked out.  In fact, the brain images would mean nothing if you didn’t know what the participants did, which we get from having done those less sexy measures a gazillion times. 

But, hey, should this academic research thing not work out….





About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
This entry was posted in Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s