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Why Neuroscience?

 A person is able to articulate their wants and desires through conscious, reflective deliberation, through weighing facts and arguments and through making rational decisions, right?



Actually – probably not.

While most of us think we are consciously creating all of our thoughts and decisions through rational processes, research in the field of neuroscience has actually told us something else might be going on.

Making decisions or forming opinions like this may not actually be the reality when it comes to our reactions to new situations, ideas or even products – really, in any situation in which you react emotionally.

According to neuroscience, that’s because most emotional decisions of this kind are made unconsciously.

Think about it.

When you see something new, and you feel a certain way about it, do you think about why you should feel the way you do first – or do you just feel a certain way about that thing or situation and then try to find reasons for the reaction you are having?

Most likely, you thought about your feelings a bit, and decided why you felt the way you did.

If that is the case, you are normal – or as normal as the rest of us, anyway.

According to neuroscience research, qualitative decisions of an emotional nature are often made on the unconscious level – meaning these decisions are made with little or no authorship of the observer.

Aside from the existential angst this may provoke (remember to breathe), this has more than a few implications when it comes to market research.


Neuroscience in market research

People’s knowledge and understanding of their own wants and desires is usually dependent on their own power to describe and articulate those wants and desires to themselves. This self-articulation allows them to form opinions about those desires.

This state of affairs might create all kinds of issues in the field of market research, as so much of what market researchers do depends on asking people what they think and feel about a certain thing, situation or idea.

What happens when the participants in market research might not actually know why they feel the way they do – that they just feel a certain way about a thing or situation and think up reasons for their feelings after feeling them?

Why neuroscience - neuroscience - marketing - market research - research - Insightrix - neuromarketing - subconscious - unconscious - Saskatchewan - Sask - SK - market insight - facial coding - eye tracking - EEG - electroencephalogramYou can imagine that in situations like this, the data gathered might be problematic at best.

Many traditional, qualitative market research methods (focus groups, surveys, etc.) rely on participants’ conscious thoughts and their conscious creation of ideas and words to express those thoughts to the researcher.

To try to get around this challenge, many market research firms have adopted neuroscientific techniques and methodologies, adapting them to fit the demands specific to market research.

Used in the field of market research, the use of neuroscience techniques is referred to as Neuromarketing.

This term, though, gives many in the field of market research serious pause, as the practice in question has little to do with marketing itself and more to do with the market research process – it has more to do with discovery than selling.

For our intents and purposes, then, for this article the practice will be referred to as the use of neuroscience in market research.  



So what’s it all about?

Neuroscience is not about reading people’s minds or predicting consumer behaviour.

As far as we know, nothing can do that.

Rather, using neuroscience in market research is about attempting to use technology to get around the need for participants to describe their feelings, bypass participants’ conscious reactions and their conscious creation of thoughts and words and try to uncover participants’ unfiltered reactions about a product, idea or situation.

The means by which researchers try to read participants’ emotional reactions are through an array of techniques and gadgets that monitor changes in participants’ physical states, allowing researchers to interpret these changes. It is these interpretations that result in data.

Some common techniques and tools to attempt this are EEG monitoring (to try to track participants’ levels of attention to what they see and/or hear), eye tracking (to track where participants are looking) and facial coding (to attempt to track how participants feel about what they experience).

All of these tools and techniques may give market researchers a look into participants’ unrationalized feelings and reactions, without having to get participants to describe how they feel. These feelings that we are told have been provided by participants without their filtering or rationalization could, ostensibly, provide much more reliable qualitative data.


For a case study describing neuroscience tools we use for market research, click here.


This is probably why the neuroscience market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 2.9%, reaching a market value of over $30.8 billion by 2020.

That’s not to say tried-and-true qualitative market research techniques like focus groups and in-depth interviewing are doomed to obscurity.

Far from it.

There is no one market research tool or technique that will give you all the answers – including neuroscience.

In fact, most market researchers who employ neuroscience techniques and tools in market research rely on the established and dependable methods we’ve all come to count on in conjunction with neuroscience.

Most market researchers believe there is a great amount of value in participants’ own descriptions of their feelings and their involvement in the research process, itself.

A Proven Method?

Who’s to say what the filtering and rationalization we all use to describe our emotions actually plays in decision-making and the formation of emotional reactions? There is still much that is unknown about this process.

For this reason and others, forthright market researchers who employ neuroscience techniques and tools usually adhere to proven methods like focus groups and in-depth interviews to back up and gain insight from the data acquired through this form of research. 

The field of neuroscience and its tools can provide a lot of data when it comes to understanding the reactions of market research participants.

Through a mix of the use of neuroscience technology and methodology in addition to proven market research techniques, market researchers can better access the feelings and attitudes of their participants.

For more information on neuroscience techniques and tools used in the field of market research, check out the Insightrix BlogAlso, have a look at a case study describing one of the Insightrix research projects in which these techniques were used.