No doubt, marketers have long suspected that consumers are making buying decisions based on gut reactions that they reach after absorbing very little information about their products. Now those marketers can find out exactly why. Enter neuromarketing, a science that determines how consumers' brains function while shopping.
A study published in the July-October issue of the Journal of Consumer Behaviour turns traditional thinking on its head. According to the research, the usual belief about object recognition, or what consumers see when they look at a product, is that shoppers are viewing it as though it's completely new to them, and they have to learn about it from the bottom up.
Primary author of "The Proactive Brain: Using Rudimentary Information to Make Predictive Judgments," Moshe Bar, Ph.D, says that's not so. Consumers make snap judgments all the time, based on top-down information that they derive from information they already know. Sometimes, consumers have made a decision far before the bottom-up process is finished. The study posits that these quick reaction times are a remnant of the human survival instinct to perceive threats, feel fear, and avoid or react to the threatening object or person.
"When encountering something new, we take superficial information, such as shape properties, and we connect it to representations in our mind of similar things we have encountered in the past," Bar says. "This can make us jump to conclusions and create expectations that are based on similarities. You can think about a car that might look like it has masculine contours, just because of the way it's shaped, and you make immediate assumptions about the car, its characteristics (e.g., fast, aggressive) and about who should drive it. But this analogy is in our heads, not really in the car. While these analogies are often unfounded, they nevertheless affect our thoughts and actions."
Read the study in its entirety.