Study Spotlights Marketing's Impact on the Brain

"In addition, it may suggest one of the ways in which consumers deal with the cognitive dissonance of paying a steep price for something -- 'We enjoy our purchase, more precisely, because we paid more,' " he said.

Another expert sees neuromarketing as a way to understand how people think and to make marketing more efficient.

"The use of neuroscientific methods and paradigms to help answer questions of marketing theory has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the relationship between organizations and consumers," said Nick Lee, a senior lecturer in the marketing group at the Aston Business School in Birmingham, England.

"This revolution is not necessarily about helping firms to sell more products or control the mind of the consumer but to help scholars understand how marketing works," Lee added. "Of course, it will also enable firms to market more efficiently, hopefully reducing wasted revenues and further benefiting economic performance."

But another expert doesn't see neuromarketing as a benign science.

"Marketing can trump our senses," said Susan Linn, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the Media Center of Judge Baker Children's Center. "Using medical equipment and medical technology to help marketers do their job better is very troubling."

Linn thinks the study findings could help marketers find new ways to manipulate consumers by pinpointing their marketing more accurately. "This is particularly troubling with children," she said.

"The marketing industry has done a good job convincing people about their free will and that they are making logical, well-thought-out decisions about the things that they buy," Linn said. "Studies like this suggest that, in fact, there are lots of things that influence our responses to marketing and our choices of products that are completely irrational that we might not be aware of."

More information

For more on free will, visit Stanford University.

SOURCES: Antonio Rangel, Ph.D., associate professor, economics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; Jon Hanson, J.D., professor, law, Harvard Law School, Boston; Nick Lee, Ph.D., senior lecturer, marketing group, Aston Business School, Birmingham, England; Susan Linn, Ed.D., associate director, Media Center of Judge Baker Children's Center, and instructor, psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Jan. 14-18, 2008, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online

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