It’s not rocket science….it’s….


I attended a  WARC seminar on neuroscience recently.  The speaker was Thom Noble, of Neurostrata.

I have always wanted to be an advocate for neuroscience.  A bit like Behavioural economics, it promises to give our intuitions a sounder intellectual base.  But I keep being disappointed with what’s offered because it feels like another research company sales pitch.

This talk by Thom Noble was the nearest I’ve yet experienced to a really good account of how neuroscience can help us do our jobs better.

There are three types of research applications for neuroscience and they’re quite different:

1)      Neurometrics: these are things like ECG and MRI scans; the hard core medical technologies.  They’re slow and not really scalable, so even if we want them, they’re not a lot of help.  And they show accurately what happens in the brain without necessarily helping you interpret what it means.

2)      Biometrics: Methods like eye-tracking and facial coding betray what is going on in our subconscious when we’re exposed to stimulus, and they are accessible for in-home and even on-line studies.  Promising, but again, once you get beyond smiling or grimacing, I’ve heard unconvincing interpretations of what eye movements or facial expressions indicate.

3)      Psychometrics: implicit testing methods; the application  I’ve seen involves the measurement of reaction times in forging associations.  The speed of association between two ideas (like an ad and the desired response) reflects the closeness or congruence of those ideas.  These methods are also quick, adaptable and scalable.

In my albeit limited experience the latter of these is the most convincing.

The big opportunity Thom identifies is in going beyond the development of advertising to the design and sensory experiences around brands.  But even he is wary.

His advice is to get involved (it’s exciting) but to tread carefully (practitioners vary in competence) and avoid being blinded by the science.  And pick horses for courses as there are pros and cons to all of these methods.  Different methods are relevant for different purposes, so there’s no panacea.


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