How the Brain Consumes – Even When the Body Doesn’t
Posted on January 27, 2017
Written by Hunter Thurman
Whether in consumer insights research, new product development, or innovation strategy, marketers need to know why consumers think what they think, and do what they do. And much has been made about the potential of neuroscience marketing to unlock new understanding of the human behavior that makes products fly off of shelves.
The future of consumer research lies in the potential of neuroscience marketing & behavioral science research. In many circles, that’s defined by the mere inclusion of psychology or neuroscience within the research process. And while these new lenses can be quite valuable, they’re just the beginning.
One theme in particular, currently making waves within the medical world, demonstrates the potential for marketers to dramatically re-imagine the way in which humans ‘consume’ products. And the implications incorporate consumer research, consumer insights, new product development and even innovation strategy itself…
The principle essentially revolves around the way in which the brain dictates the body’s reaction to stimulus – including things like food, drink, and personal care products. A recent article in Mosaic Science details this phenomenon, but here’s the lay-person’s explanation:
The brain can be conditioned to react to sensory stimulus, such as flavor, to create high-impact physiological results. When the brain associates a tangible function (like immune suppression) with a specific flavor, the body will suppress the immune system even when no actual immune-suppression chemical is present.
So, in the study covered in the article, patients’ bodies are given a certain drug along with a certain contextual cue, like a specific flavor of beverage. The brain ‘learns’ to associate the effects of the medicine with the sensory flavor of the beverage so strongly that, eventually, the effects of the drug are realized even when far less – or none – of the drug is actually present.
This is not a newly-discovered phenomenon (think Pavlov’s dogs), but the demonstration of a physiological response based on mere perception has far reaching potential to enable innovation in the food, beverage, and wellness spaces.
There are widely-recognized phenomena like nausea, anxiety, or craving – but this study shows that the potential for perception-driven response to go much deeper in determining everything from immune health to weight loss to stress.
This research punctuates the degree to which the brain controls the body.
Imagine if a maker of wholesome snacks could leverage this insight to actually train the body to burn calories more efficiently. Or if new product development for a juice brand could train the body to associate a certain flavor with stress relief. Or if a personal care product could provoke a physical feeling of energy simply via a distinct smell.
It appears all are possible and represent the future of neuroscience marketing and behavioral science research. The key to unlocking untold potential lies not with ingredients, nutrition, or calories – but with the way in which the brain interprets them.