Last night at a reception in memory of the late and great Ginny Valentine, an old buddy of mine asked me what I thought about the proliferation of neuromarketing techniques and the general air of "brain is best" in market research communities.
Perhaps I should have just referred him to David Penn of Conquest who is delighting in being the continuing scourge of snake-oil neuro-research sales persons: his "neuromania" schtick is coming to the MRS in March. Always good value.
Regular readers will know that – like David – I'm deeply suspicious of the willing misrepresentation of the science – of what is currently understood about brain activity and its relationship with behaviour (for example here and here)
Sure, we've got some general principles in place, we've far from the precise, mechanical descriptions that many vendors suggest.
What's more the reality of most human life – and most consumer choices – is social (whether or not the choice is made in the company of others): in much of modern life, we defer to the choices and enthusiasms of others. Trying to predict the behaviour of an isolated individual from the activity in his/her brain is missing the key variable shaping that choice.
Our brains are not – as we tend to think – just independent decision-making muscle – but rather evolved specifically as social organs (as Dunbar and Humphrey long ago demonstrated – you might remember this more recent paper, too)
This is why this kind of research is so interesting: it explores the neuroscience of social interaction. Dare I suggest put neuromarketing on hold until the academics have got to grips with these – rather more important – factors in influencing behaviour?