Innovating the Mind: Three Essays on Technology, Society, and Consumer Neuroscience

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation examines the emerging practice of consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing, combined called CNNM. CNNM utilizes tools and technologies to measure brain activity and human behavior coupled with scientific theories for explaining behavior and cognition. Consumer neuroscience is one of the newest areas of application of neuroscience and related techniques, and is of significant social consequence for its possible deployment in the market place to both study and shape consumer behavior. Concerns arise in terms of consumer influence and manipulation, but there are also concerns regarding the actual efficacy and utility of the technologies and the application of behavioral theories.

The dissertation's three essays each examine a facet of CNNM. Using historical sources, conference participation, and ethical analyses, the dissertation forms a multi-prong effort at a better understanding of CNNM through the use of science and technology studies (STS) methods. The first essay is an historical review of the usage of technologies to measure brain activity and behavior, parallel to the development of psychological theories created to account for human decisionmaking. This essay presents a new conception of "closure" and "momentum" as envisioned by social construction of technology and technological momentum theories, arriving at a new concept for inclusion called "convergence" which offers a multi-factor explanation for the acceptance and technical implementation of unsettled science. The second essay analyzes four discourses discovered during the review of approximately seventy presentations and interviews given by experts in the field of CNNM. Using and adapting actor-network theory, the essay seeks to describe the creation of expertise and group formation in the field of CNNM researchers. The third essay draws on a variety of ethical analyses to expand understanding of the ethical concerns regarding CNNM. It raises questions that go beyond the actual efficacy of CNNM by applying some of the theories of Michel Foucault relating to the accumulation of power via expertise. This essay also points in the direction for actionable steps at ameliorating some of the ethical concerns involving CNNM.

CNNM is a useful technique for understanding consumer behavior and, by extension, human behavior and neuroscience more generally. At the same time, it has been routinely misunderstood and occasionally vilified (for concerns about both efficacy and non-efficacy). This dissertation develops some of the specific historical movements that created the field, surveys and analyzes some of the foremost experts and how they maneuvered in their social network to achieve that status, and identifies novel ethical issues and some solutions to those ethical issues.

Consumer neuroscience, neuromarketing, actor-network, Foucault, marketing ethics, fMRI, EEG, eye-tracking, decision theory, behavioral economics