Application of Consumer Neuroscience to Market Research

This article briefly introduces the reader to an example of Consumer Neuroscience Research conducted using one of the neuroimaging tools – the EEG( electroencephalogram) . It follows the basic structure of applied neurological research to advertising using a widely accepted metric- the FAA statistic.  The study is conducted on the advertisements  in the Hospitality and Tourism Sector and can be used as a reference sample for the studies conducted in the domain.

A participant with the 64 electrode cap.  It is a safe,  painless and non-intrusive apparatus.
A participant with the 64 electrode cap. It is a safe, painless and non-intrusive apparatus.

The thesis which is the original source of this article is  titled, ‘Application of consumer neuroscience to hospitality and tourism market research’ by Chatterjee, I ( 2014) involves a step by step introduction to the process of carrying out neurological consumer research in the Hospitality and Tourism (H&T) market using the EEG. It is almost a 100 page detailed thesis available @Oxford Brookes University.  Due to the apprehension of H&T market research companies towards the technicalities involved, most of the existing physiological and neurological research in the domain is either outsourced or often, academic in nature.

This thesis however, caters to both the cognitive psychology as well as the generic market research audience. The content of the research involves a thorough analysis of the H&T market, consumer theories, marketing practices, advertising and market research.  After establishing the scope of the research, the study then illustrates most of the significant studies conducted in behavioural and physiological research using eye-tracking, facial micro-expressions, Galvanic skin response, tracking heart rate, pulse and blood pressure- all within H&T context.  Though physiological research in the domain is aplenty, I believe that the complexity of neurological research is why none of the H&T companies have invested in neurological research. This is therefore, the first one.

The Background:

One of the trends much spoken about these days is the rise of the intuitive consumer. The theory of the ‘intuitive consumer model’ is rapidly replacing the ‘rational consumer model’. Postulates of this theory claim that today’s consumer is governed more by emotions, intuition and irrational appeals and drives rather than logical, rational and methodological ones.  Most of the processes involving decision making in this context are thus subconscious in nature. Behavioral and physiological research in this domain goes only to a certain extent in analysing the mental basis and origin of such behavior. It is this scepticism that this neurological study bases itself upon and aims at analysing the neural basis of attention, attitudinal disposition and decision making instead of relying on response and opinion based data collection.

Daniel Kahneman's Intuitive Consumer.  This Study adopts System 2.
Daniel Kahneman’s Intuitive Consumer.
This Study adopts System 1.

The study then emphasises upon the need for neurological research conducted in this sector by reiterating the salient features of the hospitality and tourism product and how it differs from other products. The importance of advertisements in the sector is then discussed which then paves the way for research in advertising in the industry and highlights its importance. One such method of checking the effectiveness of advertisement is the frontal EEG alpha asymmetry which indicates an approach or withdrawal motivation while paying attention to an advertisement. Neuromarketing researchers usually are the best judge of the optimum combination of technology and variables to be studied or metrics to be developed for such studies. Such a process encompasses selecting either positivist or phenomenological research, inductive or deductive research approach and sampling – which is often snowball in nature. In such studies it is also important to control the environment and variables but not too much or the simulated environment could seem too artificial. Certain kinds of research biases are eliminated in such kind of research approach as the data collected is instantaneous and does not usually rely on conscious inputs or responses.

Choosing the right method focusing on the intuitive consumer.

The Process

The first step involved selecting 40 advertisements from the H&T sector, and then industry professionals ranked them in order of emotional vs. informational appeal. The top 10 distinct advertisements were then selected from each of the categories. The 64-electrode EEG was then used to measure the FAA statistic which is the difference in the alpha frequency range between the left and the right hemispheres of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, on 20 participants, after viewing these advertisements. The study provided certain statistically significant results on the effect of emotional vs. informational advertisements on the consumers and provides data as to which is more effective.  The results also contradict certain pre-established results on frontal alpha asymmetry on informational processing. Depending upon the industry, product or service, the research questions, sample and procedure change to meet the requirements of the organisation and the marketing/ market research and communication goals.

ANNOVA of Ad Type vs Stimuli Type
ANNOVA of Ad Type vs Stimuli Type Across the Left and Right Frontal Lobe

The Results: The means of each of these periods were calculated using the ANNOVA technique and the frontal side (left (1) or right Hemisphere (2)) was plotted on the x-axis and the EEG alpha activity in micro-volts (µV). The two separate lines indicate line 1 for Emotional Advertisement type, and 2 for informational advertisement type.

1) Higher EEG alpha activity in the right hemisphere of the prefrontal cortex compared to the left during emotional advertisement; F (*.*6), (P-Value= 0.002).

2) Higher EEG alpha activity in the left hemisphere of the prefrontal cortex compared to the right during informational advertisement; F (-*.*6), (P-Value= 0.06).

3) Higher EEG alpha activity in the right hemisphere of the prefrontal cortex on displaying emotional advertisements as compared to informational advertisements; F( *.*6),(P-Value= 0.02).

4) Higher EEG alpha activity on the left hemisphere of the prefrontal cortex on displaying informational advertisements as compared to emotional advertisements; F(*.*4),  (P-Value= 0.31).

5) The difference in EEG alpha activity is higher across the left and right hemispheres in the event of displaying emotional advertisements as compared to informational advertisements.

6) The overall EEG alpha activity is higher in the prefrontal cortex of the brain on displaying emotional advertisements as compared to informational advertisements; F (*.*1), (P-value= 0.02).

* figure hidden due to information rights.

Inferences and Conclusion:

As hypothesised, there is a clear indication that emotional pursuits did clearly generate more attention compared to informational advertisements.  However, what a market researcher has to bear in mind is- how do these translate to buying behaviour and how can these be used as defining principles while creating advertisements. The data obtained in an FAA statistic study is vast and contains several event related potentials ( ERP’s) . However, one needs to bear in mind matching the product/ service to the audience to the observed findings. Such a study though precise and error and bias free compared to other methods of qualitative market research has its own set of limitations. Most research is calculated upon baseline responses and do bear significant results, however individual differences are averaged out. The new method of conducting such research thus is single trial analysis where each participant’s data is analysed individually and statistical extremes are explained.

Accounting for individual differences may be difficult. Solution : Single Trial analysis.
Accounting for individual differences may be difficult. Solution : Single Trial analysis.

Upon analysis of this data, and the FAA statistic one can clearly cross analyse advertisements and break down the different forms of emotional appeals in an advertisement. The visual stimuli can be broken down into several data packs of colors, facial expressions, words, typefaces, spacing and can be combined with eye tracking studies to create an interactive report of what combinations work best and garner more attention/preference.  Eventually theories have linked this to purchase decisions and buyer behaviour through practically tested and simulated environments, experiments drawing from the consumer psychology theories  such as the Theory of Planned Behaviour and the Theory of Reasoned Action.

The Theory of Pl
The Theory of Planned Behaviour by Icek Ajzen – Consumer Neuroscience Research can contribute to a further understanding of the TPB.

Such testing can be performed on different media such as print, television, radio, packaging, POP etc and varies according to the industry, product, service and demographic/ target market.  An understanding of this combined with behavioural and physiological testing is probably the most powerful tool market researchers have available to them through consumer neuroscientists. Such bespoke  and focussed research can be conducted across any industry and on any product or service offered. These inferences can be  precursors to creating and executing successful marketing campaigns, product placement, determining media mixes optimised to resonate with the wavelengths of the consumers with uncanny exactitude.

-Indroneel Chatterjee


Co-Founder/ Co- CEO

IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute


One Comment Add yours

  1. J e f says:

    the application of eeg serves only the objective aspect however consumerism requires behavioral neuroscience to render
    Result Accuracy. One cannot work effectively without the other


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