As a rule, almost anything that involves the prefix neuro is probably a buzzword. Brains! They're the key to everything! Pretty pictures of brain scans or electrical pulses can reveal the depths of the human experience! We're even more likely to believe poor explanations of psychology when they're accompanied by gratuitous neuroscience jargon.
Perhaps no field is buzzier than neuromarketing, a concept invented in the 1990s by Harvard psychologists and now used by companies like Google, Frito-Lay and CBS. Neuromarketers operate on the principle that simple focus groups and surveys aren't enough to truly figure out what people want--marketing needs to tap into the subconscious parts of the brain. Marketers need to know what you want before you want it. And so neuromarketers co-opt the techniques of neuroscience--analyzing the brain's responses to products with electroencephalography (EEG) and MRI imaging. Brain-whispering, The New York Times called it a few years ago.
Now, Matt Wall argues over at Slate that neuromarketing doesn't produce solid data--and perhaps it never can.
Scientists use electroencephalography (EEG) to measure electric activity in the brain during some kind of task in the lab (like looking at certain kinds of images). In the last couple years, neuromarketers have embraced cheap, user-friendly EEG systems that claim to work with dry sensors, removing the need to dab messy conductive gel on someone's head. It's more efficient than expensive, bulky MRI machines, but it comes with a price.
The messy, long process of applying electrodes to the scalp ensures the best quality data:
And there's often just not enough data, or sophisticated analysis, to ensure the reliability of the subsequent findings:
These technical issues could, in theory, be solved by changing the experimental design or upgrading the equipment, but Wall points out that there's a larger issue with neuromarketing that will remain an impediment to getting any good scientific results: reverse inference.
Instead of carefully examining data between control and experimental conditions, neuromarketing studies often jump to conclusions about what a jump in something like an EEG signal mean about how the study subject is thinking or feeling.
Until more rigorous scientific standards come into play, it's pretty hard to say what your brain really thinks about that ad campaign.
Read the whole piece here.
"neuromarketing!" Presented by "psychology!"
Sponsored by the good people at "Pseudoscience!" and the Charlatan Buzzword Foundation.
I wonder if they could improve on this technique by using green nanotechnology? What if they made the electrodes with a 3D printer? Maybe it would help if they attached the electrodes to the test subjects using a swarm of quadcopter drones?
But seriously, who comes up with this stuff? If you want to guarantee you are getting people's attention, you're probably better off hiring a guy to run around in Renaissance Fair attire yelling about how awesome your product is than spending money on this.
Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis.
As the individual pictured in the second photograph, I share much of the writer's scepticism about the claims of some NM companies and the 'scientific' basis on which their claims are based.
The picture was taken around 1988, when I was conducting research into anxiety at Un. Sussex. I was testing a new type of EEG (the Mind Mirror)which had just been developed for use in therapy. I used TV commercials because they provided an ideal stimulus in terms of length and narrative structure. I had no interest in trying to develop any commercial applications of my work which was in the field of clinical psychology. I tell the story of those early studies in my new book The Brain Sell to be published in Sept. In this book I express many of the same doubts and concerns expressed in the article.
The American Advertising Research Foundation's study in 2011 was the first attempt to peer review the work of NM companies. The two largest companies, Neurofocus and the now no more Emsense declined to participate.
In their conclusions the ARF's expert panel expressed considerable reservations about the current state of the industry. They still felt, however,that the research was worth continuing. I too believe that, beyond all the absurd hype very interesting work is being done in improving our understanding the role of emotions and the unconscious in determining consumer choice.
The baby may not be especially robust at the time of writing - NM is, after all, a very young form of research - but it would, nevertheless,be a mistake to toss it out with what is currently the somewhat tepid and murky bathwater!