David Penn of Conquest presented “Neuromania: Why We Need to Re-humanize Research” at the NewMR Virtual Festival. “You’ve probably heard of neuroscience and neuromarketing. As for neuromania, you probably haven’t heard of that.” Some definitions:

  • Neuroscience is “the scientific study of the nervous system”.
  • Cognitive neuroscience is “the study of how our thoughts and feelings are implemented in the brain”.
  • Neuromarketing or neurometrics is “the use of neuroscientific technologies to measure response to marketing stimuli”.
  • Neuromania (coined by Raymond Tallis) is “the belief that we can explain all our behavior by reference to the brain”.

Happily, David says, “Not all neuromarketers are neuromaniacs! Some of my best friends are neuromarketers…”

Neuromarketing techniques include the primary methods of fMRI and EEG and the secondary methods of biometrics (eye-tracking, skin-response, facial EMG), which are secondary because they don’t directly reveal what’s going on in the brain itself. Unfortuntely, fMRI isn’t widely used for market research because – while it has high spatial resolution to show activity within specific brain regions – it’s incredibly expensive, non-portable, very stressful to respondents and suffers from a 5-second lag effect for assessing reactions to external stimuli. EEG, on the other hand, has no time lag, “uses less invasive and more portable equipment” but unfortunately measures only part of the brain and uses an older, simpler model of how the brain works.

Martin Lindstrom’s book Buy-ology and Dr. A.K. Pradeep’s The Buying Brain both argue that the brain is central to consumer decisionmaking. [You could argue that they are neuromaniacs.] Neuromania shows eight fallacies:

  1. The evolution fallacy – “We don’t differ fundamentally from higher primates (apart from having a bigger brain), and the differences are less important than the similarities.” Language and creativity certainly make us fundamentally different from primates.
  2. The we-are-our-brain fallacy – “If we can’t see something in the brain, it doesn’t exist.” We can’t see consciousness, the self, identity or memory in the brain, all of which exist.
  3. The sameness fallacy – “Because the brain activity is the same, the consequence of the brain activity is the same.” For instance, equating brand loyalty with worship, as Lindstrom does, sees sameness where there are quite dramatic differences: no one who “worships at the church of Apple” believes in an “Apple heaven”.
  4. The difference fallacy – “Because different parts of the brain light up when someone looks at different stimuli, we can infer what the subject feels and thinks about.” Neuroscientific understanding of the brain cannot equate parts of the brain that strongly with specific emotions.
  5. The freedom fallacy – “Because brain activity may sometimes be observed before we’re aware of making a decision, our free will is an illusion – our brains are in control.” While this could be subject of an extensive philosophical debate, people can definitely control or limit their instinctive response to a situation: “free won’t” instead of “free will”, as it were, deciding not to hit or not to kiss someone, for example.
  6. The automatic pilot fallacy – “Our unconscious/emotions compel us to act (irrationally) instead of working with our rational faculties to facilitate better decision making.” It’s very rare for our emotions to completely dictate our reaction – in situations of “fight or flight”, for instance.
  7. The reductionist fallacy – “We can locate reason and emotion in specific parts of the brain.” The brain is not that modular: emotions and reasoning are located side by side and constantly interact.
  8. The all-in-the-head fallacy – “Thought, feeling and cognition are ‘all in the the brain’ and not outside it.” What it means to be human is to have relationships with one another, with cognitive and emotional connections to others. “We are in a cognitive community of minds, which is the way in which we create culture, and language is the most direct expression of that.”

Language represents this community of the minds, but it is a “quite a latecomer”. First our species started with episodic memory, then had mimesis or nonverbal language (“signs, gesture and mime”). Next was non-verbal representation and then metaphor, a means of communicating emotion. Finally symbols and language came along.

Since metaphors pre-date language, it makes sense that metaphors might enable us to get closer to our emotions. “Conquest’s Metaphorix® uses metaphors that allow people to express their feelings intuitively. Using words is not the best way to get people to express their emotions. Primary metaphors are present in almost every language and every culture.” Conquest has created visual metaphors for respondents to choose from. The distribution of responses using these metaphors is completely different, more intense, than when measuring using a conventional verbal scale in a survey.

David concluded by saying, “Neuromarketing helps us to understand the neural correlates of brand and advertising. But brands are as much cultural constructs as neuronal ones; they exist in the community of minds created by the interaction of our brains with the environment in which they live. Looking at the brain alone will never give us the complete answer. Looking for our shared humanity might.”

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.