How Marketers Are Plotting To Use Neuroscience To Control What You Buy


Ever felt exceedingly pleased with yourself after splurging on a luxury good?

Blame marketers, who are becoming increasingly sophisticated and increasingly Orwellian. Case in point: A recent study published in the Journal of Marketing Research used brain imaging tech to test how the amount of grey matter a person has affects how he or she make decisions about products.

Previous studies have shown that people are more likely to enjoy consuming a product that is labeled as more expensive, whether or not the product is actually of a higher quality. Termed the “marketing placebo effect” the perceived value of something can affect the actual experience of it — even the price of painkillers can affect how people experience pain.

We’ve known this for a while, but the researchers at the INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau, France wanted to see the effect in action — in the brain — while people were actually consuming stuff.

The researchers claim that the volume of grey matter in certain structures of the brain affects how susceptible a person is to marketing placebo effects, and that this varies by individual. Cool, got it. Then they creepily conclude that, in the future, they could brainwash us take advantage of this neuroscience to influence what we buy.

Before we get into how and whether this could actually happen, let’s take a quick look at the study.

Placebos don’t cost a thing

The researchers performed three different types of studies.

For the first, they re-analyzed the results of previous research they conducted in 2008. In that study, 90 participants were told they would be consuming wines from five different price ranges between $5 and $90, when really they were only sipping two types of wine that were either $5 or $90. This study showed the placebo effect —> Read More