Selling Out the Brain

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We all know that there’s a vast conspiracy to make us buy more stuff, right? Apparently, the brain scientists are in on it too.

Psychologists, neuroscientists, and marketers are forming a research partnership to study the thought processes behind consumer spending, reports Stanford (Nov.-Dec. 2008). In the emerging field of “decision neuroscience,” business researchers and neuroscientists use MRIs to analyze brain activity and determine what triggers certain responses during purchasing decisions. By tapping into brain-scan results, they hope to predict consumers’ behavior—information that’s highly interesting to marketing professionals.

Of course, “the notion that researchers may give retailers even better tools to persuade even more people to spend and shop elicits something of a shudder,” Stanford writes, especially from psychologists who help people curb obsessive shopping habits. “We’re totally working at cross-purposes,” says April Lane Benson, a psychologist and author of To Buy or Not to Buy. “We’re both looking at triggers, but marketers want people to buy mindlessly, and we want people to buy mindfully.”