Data mining the unconscious

Catharine Weiss, Salve Regina University


Consumer Neuroscience is an emerging market research method using both scientific analysis and neurotechnology that has created controversy and ethical discourse. The premise of this development is the merging of two disciplines; neuroscience and marketing. Consumer Neuroscience has found a timely entrance into the world of consumer research using neurotechnology, promising to study how customers unconsciously feel. Neuromarketers hope to tap into the hidden emotional responses of human beings using devices such as fMRI’s or biometrics, typically reserved for medical doctors and neurological research. The object is to gauge consumer preferences and desires more succinctly and effectively. More importantly, to discover “buy buttons” or emotional triggers that drive customers to buy, uncovering their unconscious minds. Using neurotechnology and analysis, sample populations are examined to see how they react to various stimuli in real time while viewing movie trailers, commercials, websites and even product design options. Researchers then equate certain feelings with those reactions based on measured responses. While this may appear to be quite useful in the context of better understanding consumer emotions and strategic planning for a marketer, it has raised important ethical questions, such as: Who will control the process? How potentially harmful is the process? Does the approach cross critical ethical boundaries? In sum, this examination will gather the most significant topics found in leading academic and professional literature that deal with the ethics of consumer neuroscience and will point to areas where further study is needed.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Weiss, Catharine, "Data mining the unconscious" (2017). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI10273910.