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.

How the 4 Drivers of BeSci Crack the Code on the Millennial Mind

Posted on January 8, 2017
Written by Hunter Thurman

As marketers, we’re accustomed to looking at consumer behavior — how people behave in given situations or contexts — and then trying to extrapolate why they do what they do. Unfortunately, observing behavior and context still can’t explain the WHY.

What’s missing from traditional consumer research approaches is human nature. And there is one core fact that decades of scientific knowledge about human nature reveals: Simply, that humans crave CONTROL.

Below is a 15-minute video from my talk at the 2016 IIeX Conference. In this talk, I discuss our proprietary brain state model, Habits of Control, and how it goes beyond simple demographics to give us information about how humans pay attention, how they make decisions, and how they interact with the world from a sensory standpoint.

Using this model in a recent study on Millennials reveals some very interesting truths about Millennials that may surprise you. Take a closer look to learn concrete ways to effectively reach this generation in real life…

Wondering What A Neuroscientist Does In
The Innovation Lab?

Posted on September 18, 2015
Written by Julie Maines

We’ve always been just a bit obsessive about decoding consumers to help our clients grow their business. Thriveplan’s expertise in human behavioral science is fueling our ability to take it to the next level.

Introducing Dr. T. Sigi Hale, Ph.D.

In his newly expanded role, Neuroscientist Dr. T. Sigi Hale, Ph.D. is leading Thriveplan’s neuromarketing capability. Within a single conversation with Sigi, one gets a true sense for his passion to deep dive into the inner workings of the human brain: “Not science for science sake, but to help make life work better.” While at UCLA, Sigi developed and published a body of work that went from an original hypothesis to a new model of normal and abnormal brain functioning—In short, he’s always trying to unravel the mystery of ‘us.’

If you’re picturing a ‘science-nerd,’ think again—this scientist is also an entrepreneur and adventurer, who has created and produced outdoor music festivals, started a snowboard hat company, created a soccer academy that focused on the mental/attentional aspects of sports, and performed as the front-man for a band that filled many of the classic club-venues in L.A. (and more!).

Sigi’s expertise brings a succinct approach to translating raw data into brand-advancing insight. “We are living in an exciting time where our understanding of brain-function and diversity of intelligence types/styles is beginning to elucidate new and better ways for humans to realize their potential individually and as groups. Neuroscience is changing the world, and now I get to stand in the trenches and help make that happen. I’m outward-facing and working to bring neuroscience to life. It’s perfect.”

So, as it turns out, innovation is a science after all 😉

The Role of Emotions in Daily Decision Making

Posted on November 10, 2014
Written by Hunter Thurman

Decision Making

It might not come as a surprise to learn that some of the most enduring products were created by accident: popsicles, breakfast cereal, Worcestershire sauce.

But scientific discoveries? As reassuring as it might be to assume they’re the result of calculated, methodical “scientific” approaches – particularly in this day and age – that’s not always the case.

Decision Making

One accident in particular involves Elliot, a model father, husband and businessman who lost a portion of his frontal lobe due to life-saving surgery. Instead of gaining a new lease on life, however, Elliot ultimately ended up divorced, bankrupt and living in the custody of a sibling. His doctor, famed neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, made the oddest of diagnoses: Elliot had lost his ability to make decisions. But Damasio couldn’t understand why.

Elliot performed remarkably well on cognitive tests, retaining an IQ in the top 3%. But in conversation Elliot was emotionless. This caused Damasio to question everything he and the rest of the scientific world had always believed about what it meant to be a rational being. He hypothesized that, far from getting in the way, emotions are the key to successful decision-making.

To quote Damasio: “We’re trained to regard emotions as irrational impulses that are likely to lead us astray. When we describe someone as “emotional,” it’s usually a criticism that suggests that they lack good judgment… This is not to deny that emotions and feelings can cause havoc in the processes of reasoning under certain circumstances… [but that] certain aspects of the process of emotion and feeling are indispensable for rationality.”

The Emotional Impact

In the simplest terms, Elliot had lost the pathway between his “paleo brain,” the source of his basic emotions, and his orbitofrontal cortex, the latest evolution of the human brain and the gatekeeper of our emotions, responsible for integrating basic emotions into the conscious thought process.

When we’re deciding what to have for dinner, for example, our brains sub-consciously create virtual hypothetical experiences, in essence a series of “if, then” loops… “If I order Chinese, I’ll feel this way. If I order pizza, I’ll feel this way…” When we happen on the one that “feels” best to us – Bam! – we’re able to arrive at a decision.

Imagine, however, if that loop were never-ending, because there was no input from the emotional part of our brains as to what would “feel” best. It would be impossible to navigate through life, and that’s exactly what happened to Elliot.

Reaching Consumer Emotions

The ramifications of this discovery are far-reaching, particularly in the CPG world, as they reveal the critical role feelings play in consumer decision-making. Clearly, there’s an imperative to change the way we approach consumer insight and brand innovation. By understanding this sub-conscious decision making process, and using emerging technologies to integrate “emotional reading” into the development approach, we enter a new frontier of predictive behavior.

Marketers and insights pros have always known emotions are important to winning propositions. Insights like Damasio’s mean we know, like never before, exactly why they’re so crucial, and how to use them to help brands find big-time growth potential.

Why Should Your Brand Care That Boomers Are Devouring Information?

Posted on June 2, 2014
Written by Hunter Thurman


Imagine you’re passing by the kitchen here at Thriveplan, and overhear the following conversation:

Geoffrey (the evolutionary psychologist):
“Phenotypic plasticity drives costly signaling among the Boomer tribe in order to demonstrate social fitness and mating value.”

Hunter (the translator):
“I agree. Boomers ARE constantly seeking new information in order to show the world they’re still relevant, attractive, and worth hiring and hanging out with.”

“What’s more, this dynamic will compel high openness in navigating complex environments.”

“You said it! Boomers ARE totally open to new products and ideas as a result of this motivation, which is baked right into their subconscious thought process.”

Boomers Yearn To Learn

The 450,000,000 Boomers worldwide are seeking education in record numbers – both formal via universities, and informal via a voracious appetite for information. And the simple reason why is that it’s in their DNA. Evolutionary psychology explains fundamental human motivations, and Boomer self-education serves as a prime example. The innate desire to remain a relevant, vibrant, and desirable member of the tribe is pure human instinct.

The lesson for marketers? Start with the human. Knowing why a human acts the way she does – before worrying about how it compels consumption of your brand – taps dramatic potential for brands to reach her in more relevant ways via strategy and new products.