Digital Economy USRG

Managing in the Neural Age: Beyond the Neurobabble

Lisa HarrisMarch 17, 2012
by Lisa Harris

School of Management Seminar by Stephen Rhys Thomas and Gemma Calvert

20th March 6pm in Building 58a, Highfield Campus

The neuroscientific explosion of the past decade has resulted in many fields acquiring a putative ‘neuro’ prefix, notably neuroeconomics (Glimcher, 2003) and neuromarketing (Smidts, 2002).   Driven in large part by the increasing capacity to open the ‘black box’ of the brain with digital scanning technologies, this revolution in our ability to correlate neural events promises – or threatens – to offer new levels of explanation for previously closed behavioural mechanisms, ushering in a ‘Neural Age’.  In particular, the involvement of brain mechanisms in attention, decision making, emotional evaluation and recognition, and the growing realization that these processes appear to involve significant preconscious, unconscious and even irrational elements (e.g. Ariely and Berns, 2010; Kahneman, 2011).

These realizations and the growing evidence from social cognitive neuroscience of the extent to which our brains are ‘socially wired’ (e.g. Lieberman, 2007) pose challenging questions for potentially presumptive claims of ‘customer insight’ gained by extrinsic rather then intrinsic measures (Calvert, 2012).  Some would argue that the rising tide of neuroscience revelations has been matched and exceeded by hype in the application arena, leaving many companies uncertain of the reality and validity of the new methods:  many businesses see transformational potential in understanding the brain but are perplexed by the hype and the associated ‘neurobabble’.  Neuroscientists themselves are certainly not advocating a panacea (e.g. Poldrack, 2008). In this session, we offer hard science and business perspectives on valid applications of neuroscience at what may be the dawn of the ‘Neural Age’ (Thomas, 2011).

Business-academics Stephen Rhys Thomas and Gemma Calvert will offer a balanced account of some of the potential and actual achievements of applied neuroscience in marketing and related domains, and some of the pitfalls and limitations, including why, for example, any search for a Holy Grail of Marketing in the form of a ‘buy button’ appears to be a doomed quest.

The seminar aims to raise the level of awareness of the major implications of recent developments in social and cognitive neuroscience for mainstream marketing, management and innovation, frame fundamental questions and generate a new research agenda as we pioneer this new field.

 Glimcher, P.W. (2003)  Decisions, Uncertainty and the Brain.  Academic Press.

Smidts, A. (2002) referenced in Sutherland, M. (2007), Neuromarketing: What’s it all about?  1st Australian Neuromarketing Symposium, 2007.

Ariely, D. and Berns, G.S. (2010)  Neuromarketing: the hope and the hype of neuroimaging in business. Nature Neuroscience Reviews, 11, 284-292.

Kahneman, D. (2011)  Thinking Fast and Slow. Allen Lane.

Lieberman, M. D. (2007). Social cognitive neuroscience: A review of core processes. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 259-89.

Calvert, G. (2012)  Practical Applications of Neuromarketing Tools.  Neuromarketing World Forum 2012, Amsterdam.

Poldrack, R.A. (2008)  The role of fMRI in cognitive neuroscience: where do we stand?  Curr. Opin.Neurobiol. 18, 223-227.

Thomas, S.R. (2011)   The Great NeuroDiaspora:  The Interdisciplinary Explosion in Neuroscience – A management perspective.  Southampton Neuroscience Group (SoNG) Lecture, February 2011.  Ibid. From Brand to Brain:  Marketing in the Neural Age.  Working Paper, School of Management, University of Southampton.




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