About this Article
Written by: Chris Daskalos
Written on: November 25th, 2012
Tags: biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, health & medicine, lifestyle
Thumbnail by: Bobjgalindo/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Chris Daskalos is a senior at the University of Southern California, majoring in Policy, Management, and Planning with a minor in Applied Computer Security. He wishes to pursue a career in cybersecurity legislation to prevent over censoring the internet.
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Volume XV Issue I > How Companies Fulfill Your Deepest Desires: Neuromarketing and the MRI
Mad Men, the American Movie Channel’s award winning TV show, transports viewers to the sexy and fast paced marketing world of Don Draper in 1960’s New York. Today, that world is getting sexier and faster with the advancement of neuromarketing. By using MRI and EEG machines on subjects exposed to products or advertisements, companies are keeping a competitive edge to slash competitors. On the one hand, many scientists support the use of MRI and EEG machines for neuromarketing purposes as neuroscience research is simultaneously propelled. On the other hand, many critics of neuromarketing argue that this developing industry crosses many moral boundaries and should cease immediately. Both biology and technology support the development of neuromarketing, as well as reveal potential societal benefits and nuisances created in the process.

How Neuromarketing Works

Neuromarketing is the combination of “psychology, neuroscience, and economics” with the main goal of finding a consumer’s “buy button” and learning how to push it [1]. Neuromarketing companies achieve this by using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and EEG (Electroencephalogra​phy) machines on subjects exposed to products or advertisements to pinpoint brain activity. Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Coca Cola, to name a few, all use neuromarketing to gain an advantage over their competitors.


Neuromarketing is a field quickly developing hand in hand with neuroscience. The more we learn about the specific portions of the brain and the functions they control, the better we can market our products. A major discovery in the field of neuroscience occurred in 1848 when 25 year old Phineas Gage was impaled through the brain by a large iron rod while working on the railroad as seen in Fig. 1 [2]. Surprisingly enough, Phineas survived even though much of the left frontal lobe of his brain was destroyed. After this accident, those who knew Phineas began calling him “no longer Gage” to describe the major change in his personality. The Smithsonian Magazine reported that Phineas’ doctor stated “after the accident Phineas could not stick to plans, uttered the grossest profanity and showed little deference for his fellows” [3]. This is the most famous accident in the field of neuroscience because it revealed that specific portions of the brain control specific human functions and not all functions are necessary to live [3].
Van Horn JD, Irimia A, Torgerson CM, Chambers MC, Kikinis R, et al./Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1: Depiction of a Gage skull.
Over the next 150 years, neuroscientists studied the phenomenon Phineas’ accident revealed and eventually mapped out the brain, describing functions each portion controlled. Although much more research is needed to completely understand the brain, a few portions particularly important to neuromarketing are the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus. Research shows that the amygdala corresponds to emotional memory [4]. The hypothalamus is known to control “motivational states including hunger, appetite and food intake, and everything to do with the concept of pleasure including satisfaction, comfort and creative activities” [5]. The hippocampus acts as a “memory indexer” placing some memories into long term storage and helping to retrieve them when needed [6]. These areas of the brain can be seen in Fig. 2 [7].
lifesciencedb/Wikime​dia Commons
Figure 2: 3D model of the brain.
Good neuromarketing is successful when these portions of the brain are active because that means the product or advertisement is associated with emotion, motivational states such as hunger, and ultimately, placed into the long term memory.