From the Archives: Neuromarketing

Marketers have tried most everything to get people to buy more, including scanning their brains. But what have they learned that way?

It’s hard to know, reported writer Ann Parson in our Briefing Paper from December 2011, “Neuromarketing: Prove Thyself & Protect Consumers,” because much of the research is done by private firms that don’t release their data and, well, we don’t know that much about how the brain works.

As researcher Annie Lang put it: “My career has been spent scientifically assessing whether we can make reliable inferences about what people are thinking and feeling while interacting with media, based on real-time measures, and it’s a pretty hard thing to do. These days, anyone can collect the data. How they interpret those data is another story, and, in many cases, we can’t assess their claims, because they’re based on in-house proprietary data.”


Many of the studies have focused on increasing activity in the striatum, which has been linked to a person’s feeling of pleasure. But “it isn’t safe to assume that because a brain area is active, that means that the function commonly associated with that region is engaged,” said psychiatrist Carl Fisher, lead author of a review of neuromarketing research.

Afraid somebody might trigger your “buy” button? Check out our briefing paper for more about Fisher’s review and what ethicists suggest we do.

– Nicky Penttila

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