How Capitalism Created Cool

How Capitalism Created Cool

In April of 2015, The Atlantic published an interview with two Caltech brain researchers about how capitalism created cool. The two researchers, Steven Quartz and Anette Asp, shared incredible insights into the world of neuroscience and neuromarketing. Below are a few excerpts that we enjoyed from the interview.

 Stephane Mahe/Reuters Stephane Mahe/Reuters

What are Neuroeconomics and Neuromarketing?

Quartz: Neuroeconomics was developed at Caltech around 2000, in part because we had an outstanding group of behavioral economists who had developed very sophisticated ways to investigate how people actually make economic decisions (in contrast to much of traditional economics which uses formal theories of optimal behavior). When we built an imaging center, it was an organic process of translating these behavioral studies to the brain and to investigate especially the unconscious processes that weren’t observable or measurable with the behavioral studies. Neuromarketing was the application of these studies to product testing, development, and consumer preferences in real situations.

Asp: Neuroeconomics is a way to answer questions about how the brain processes decisions involving everything from risk-taking, risk aversion, trust in other people, and so on. Neuromarketing on the other hand focuses on how we perceive brands, products, and status signaling objects. Both tell us about the unconscious processes that a survey or focus group wouldn’t reveal. Often people don’t dare to reveal that they prefer Gucci, when the focus group is arranged by Prada.

Our Thoughts

We think Quartz and Asp do an incredible job at distilling the definition of neuroeconomics and neuromarketing. Our eye tracking studies fall into the definition of neuromarketing, because we are measuring the unconscious decision process of the eyes. We believe the eyes tell us an incredible amount of information about WHY we buy things. We think that focus groups are still important, but using neuromarketing techniques like eye tracking will drastically accelerate your product to market with confidence.

One Question About Brain Imaging Studies is That the Sample Sizes Tend to be Quite Small. Is That a Legitimate Problem?

Quartz: We’ve done some studies with large sample sizes for imaging (upwards of 100 subjects), but the sample size issue really depends on what the question is. In neuromarketing it’s very difficult to get representation of the country, say, if you want demographic groups, age, gender, geographical location, etc. But if you want to see how a certain design affects the brain, or if the brain processes unconscious information about a product, that can be done with relatively small samples sizes.

Our Thoughts

We completely agree with Steve on sample sizes in neuromarketing studies. We tend to use 50 to 100 participants in our eye tracking studies on package design.

To read more from the interview, please visit:

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