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What is Consumer Neuroscience?

Consumer neuroscience is a type of market research that uses the techniques of brain science to understand the implicit side of decision making and its subsequent behavior. At Merchant Mechanics, consumer neuroscience is the foundational piece to implicit testing. We augment this with behavioral economics and psychology to better understand, describe, predict and influence consumer decision-making and related behavior. This type of implicit research reveals thoughts, emotions, and motives that lie below conscious awareness, yet have profound effects on judgment and decision making. Behavioral economists refer to this kind of “thinking” as System 1. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman posited two types of “thinking,” System 1 and System 2, and we all use both, whether we’re aware of it or not.

System 1 thinking operates below conscious awareness and is highly emotional. It occurs spontaneously, quickly, effortlessly, implicitly and intuitively. Researchers investigating System 1 responses use methods that you might not be familiar with, such as Implicit Association Tests, EEG, Biometrics, and fMRI.

System 2 thinking, on the other hand, is processed consciously and is highly rational. This is how most people assume all information is processed. System 2 is methodical, deliberate, effortful, explicit, and calculated. Research in this mode asks people direct questions about their actions, thoughts, and feelings and relies on more traditional methods like surveys, focus groups, ethnography, and TURF analysis.

Although both systems can operate independently of one another, they often interact to influence decisions. This is why investigating both System 1 and System 2 often yields deeper and more robust insights.

Implicit testing lies at the intersection of:

  • Consumer neuroscience – the study of the brain and nervous system, which helps us understand brain states & psychological reactions to brands, products, and marketing stimuli.
  • Social Psychology – the study of how thoughts and behaviors are influenced by social groups, which helps us understand how conscious & non-conscious states are affected by social stimuli.
  • Behavioral Economics – the study of how people make economic decisions, which helps us understand situational influences on consumer choice.

Why it’s Important

Surprisingly, people have limited access to those thoughts and feelings that lie below conscious awareness. As a result, people are unreliable witnesses to their own behavior. The more you ask them to explain their behavior, the less reliable their answers. Sometimes we know exactly how we feel about something and sometimes we don’t.

For example, there was an experiment in which men were asked to look at 8″ x 10″ glossy photos of women and choose the ones they found most attractive. In half of the photos, the eyes of the women had been dilated. Researchers were surprised to find that the men consistently selected the photos of women with dilated eyes. The participants had trouble explaining their choices. “There was just something about those women.”

It turns out that your brain knows there is a correlation between dilated eyes and sexual enthusiasm. Their brains knew this, through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, but the men didn’t.

How it’s used

Consumer neuroscience can be used for virtually any market-, consumer-, or shopper-research study including (but not limited to): product design, packaging, enhancing promotions and advertising, pricing, retail environment, or improving overall customer experience.

Consumer neuroscience is NOT a magic bullet. It can’t answer every question or solve every problem. It is another tool in your toolbox, albeit a powerful tool.

  • Some business questions are best answered using System 1 methods.
  • Some business questions are best answered using System 2 methods.
  • And some are best answered by integrating System 1 and System 2 methods.

Please contact us with any additional questions or to schedule an information session for you and your colleagues.