Consumer behavior can leave Market Researchers scratching their heads. Sometimes people just don’t make good decisions. Why, for example, do some people spend more money on a particular brand when there is another virtually identical cheaper option? Because, as Neuroscientists know, a decision is not just based on Reason, but also on Emotion.
Market Research and Neuroscience share an overlapping goal of understanding human behavior and choices. Insights obtained from Neuroscience can inform Market Researchers’ understanding of consumer behavior. A significant Neuroscience teaching is an emphasis of the interaction of both Emotion and Reason systems in evaluations and decisions.
The “Emotion” System is also referred to by Neuroscientists as the Limbic System and involves subcortical brain regions such as the amygdala and nucleus accumbens. This system is fast, inflexible, hard wired, and the home of our gut feelings, instincts, and unconscious responses. Here, habits and conditioned responses are formed and acted upon, along side with basic unconscious motivations and desires.
The “Reason” system refers to more recently evolved cortical structures on the front and more exterior part of the brain which wrap around and connect directly to the limbic system. In contrast to the Limbic/Emotion system, the cortical Reason system is slower and more flexible, but with limited capacity. Here we can reason through a problem and reflect on why we maybe feeling a certain way and what is the best way to proceed.
Often times the Emotion and Reason systems are in agreement about how to respond, but conflict can occur. People vary in the balance of the two systems, some weighing Emotion more than Reason, and vice versa. For example teenagers’ prefrontal cortex, critical to the function of the Reason system, is not yet fully developed and won’t be until their early 20s. Teenagers therefore make decisions and respond with more emphasis on the Emotion system, with less ability to more equally balance with Reason. Adults, too, vary in the balance of their Emotion and Reason systems depending on biological factors, experience, context, motivations and many other individual factors.