Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1271–1284 | Cite as

Ethical Issues in Neuromarketing: “I Consume, Therefore I am!”

  • Yesim Isil Ulman
  • Tuna CakarEmail author
  • Gokcen Yildiz


Neuromarketing is a recent interdisciplinary field which crosses traditional boundaries between neuroscience, neuroeconomics and marketing research. Since this nascent field is primarily concerned with improving marketing strategies and promoting sales, there has been an increasing public aversion and protest against it. These protests can be exemplified by the reactions observed lately in Baylor School of Medicine and Emory University in the United States. The most recent attempt to stop ongoing neuromarketing research in France is also remarkable. The pertaining ethical issues have been continuously attracting much attention, especially since the number of neuromarketing companies has exceeded 300 world-wide. This paper begins with a brief introduction to the field of neurotechnology by presenting its current capabilities and limitations. Then, it will focus on the ethical issues and debates most related with the recent applications of this technology. The French Parliament’s revision of rules on bioethics in 2004 has an exemplary role in our discussion. The proposal by Murphy et al. (2008) has attracted attention to the necessity of ethical codes structuring this field. A code has recently been declared by the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association. In this paper, it is argued that these technologies should be sufficiently discussed in public spheres and its use on humans should be fully carried out according to the ethical principles and legal regulations designed in line with human rights and human dignity. There is an urgent need in the interdisciplinary scientific bodies like ethics committees monitoring the research regarding the scientific and ethical values of nonmaleficence, beneficence, autonomy, confidentiality, right to privacy and protection of vulnerable groups.


Neuromarketing Neuroscience Ethical issues Human dignity Public engagement 



We are grateful to Veljko Dubljevic PhD, D.Phil, for his comments on the manuscript. We also thank Catherine Bobbit MA, Botan Dolun MA, and Gizem Kavas for the native speaking language check on the text.


  1. Andorno, R. (2005). The Oviedo Convention: A European legal framework at the intersection of human rights and health law. Journal of International Biotechnology Law, 2(4), 133–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andorno, R. (2012). Human rights as a framework for global bioethics, In: Bioethics in a changing world, Turkish Bioethics Association, Y.I. Ulman., & F. Artvinli (Eds.), 2012,14.Google Scholar
  3. Arlauskaitė, E., & Sferle, A. (2013). Ethical Issues in Neuromarketing. Master Thesis, Lund University School of Economics and Management International Marketing and Brand Management program, Supervising professor: Annette Cerne, Examiner: Ulf Elg, Submission date: 24th May, 2013, p. 56.Google Scholar
  4. Bargh, J. A. (2002). Losing consciousness: Automatic influences on consumer judgment, behavior, and motivation. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(2), 280–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beauchamp, T. L. (1997). Informed consent. In R. M. Veatch (Ed.), Medical ethics (pp. 185–208). USA: Jones Bartlett Publishers.Google Scholar
  6. Camerer, C., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2005). Neuroeconomics: How neuroscience can inform economics. Journal of Economic Literature, 43, 9–64.Google Scholar
  7. Carr, N. (2008). Neuromarketing could make mind reading the ad-man’s ultimate tool. The Guardian: 3 April 2008.Google Scholar
  8. Chartrand, T. L., Huber, J., Shiv, B., & Tanner, R. J. (2008). Nonconscious goals and consumer choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(2), 189–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chessa, A. G., & Murre, J. M. (2007). A neurocognitive model of advertisement content and brand name recall. Marketing Science, 26(1), 130–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chib, V. S., Rangel, A., Shimojo, S., & O’Doherty, J. P. (2009). Evidence for a common representation of decision values for dissimilar goods in human ventromedial prefrontal cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29(39), 12315–12320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Damasio, A. (2009). Neuroscience and the emergence of neuroeconomics (pp. 209–214). Neuroeconomics: Decision Making and the Brain.Google Scholar
  12. De Araujo, I. E., Rolls, E. T., Kringelbach, M. L., McGlone, F., & Phillips, N. (2003). Taste-olfactory convergence, and the representation of the pleasantness of flavour, in the human brain. European Journal of Neuroscience, 18(7), 2059–2068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dolcos, F., LaBar, K. S., & Cabeza, R. (2004). Dissociable effects of arousal and valence on prefrontal activity indexing emotional evaluation and subsequent memory: an event-related fMRI study. Neuroimage, 23(1), 64–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ergen, M., & Ulman Y.I. (2012). Neuroscience, Neurotechnology, Lie Detection and Ethics. Acıbadem Üniversitesi Sağlık Bilimleri Dergisi, 3(3),149–159. (In Turkish). Accessed 6 June 2014.
  15. Est, R.V. et al. (2014). From Bio to NBIC convergence-From medical practice to daily life. Report written for the Council of Europe, Committee on Bioethics, The Hague, Rathenau Instituut, 2014 p. 41. Accessed 22 June 2014.
  16. Farah, M. J. (2005). Neuroethics: The practical and the philosophical. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(1), 34–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Finlayson, J. G. (2005). Habermas: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gallup. (2011). Honesty and ethics in professions. Accessed 6 June 2014.
  19. Gazzaniga, M. S. (2005). The Ethical Brain. New York: Dana Press.Google Scholar
  20. Glimcher, P. W., & Rustichini, A. (2004). Neuroeconomics: The consilience of brain and decision. Science, 306(5695), 447–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Groeppel-Klein, A. (2005). Arousal and consumer in-store behavior. Brain Research Bulletin, 67(5), 428–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Guide for Ethics Committees (Etik Kurullar Kilavuzu). (2010). In TTB-UDEK Etik Calisma Grubu Uzmanlik Dernekleri icin Etik Kilavuzlar, Turk Tabipleri Birligi Yayinlari, Ankara, 2010, 35–38 (In Turkish). Accessed 14 Feb 2014.
  23. Gutman, A. (2013). Policy Forum: The Bioethics Commission on Incidental Findings. Science, 342, 1321–1323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Habermas, J. (1991). The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Cambridge: MIT press.Google Scholar
  25. Hubert, M., & Kenning, P. (2008). A current overview of consumer neuroscience. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 7(4–5), 272–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Illes, J. (2002). Brain and cognition: Ethical challenges in advanced neuroimaging. Brain and Cognition, 50(3), 341–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Izgi, C., Ulman Y.I. (2013). Klinik Arastirmalar Yonetmeligine Bakis, (A Look at the Clinical Research Regulation), Acibadem University Journal of Health Sciences, 4(4), 161–167 (In Turkish). Accessed 14 Feb 2014.
  28. Knutson, B., Rick, S., Wimmer, G. E., Prelec, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2007). Neural predictors of purchases. Neuron, 53(1), 147–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kramer, J. B. (2006). Ethical analysis and recommended action in response to the dangers associated with youth consumerism. Ethics and Behavior, 16(4), 291–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Krishna, A., & Morrin, M. (2008). Does touch affect taste? The perceptual transfer of product container haptic cues. Journal of Consumer Research, 34(6), 807–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Levy, I., Lazzaro, S. C., Rutledge, R. B., & Glimcher, P. W. (2011). Choice from non-choice: predicting consumer preferences from blood oxygenation level-dependent signals obtained during passive viewing. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31(1), 118–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lo, B. (2007). Behind closed doors: Promises and pitfalls of ethics committees. In N. S. Jecker, A. R. Jonsen, & R. A. Perlman (Eds.), Bioethics: An introduction to the history, methods, and practice (pp. 236–244). Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.Google Scholar
  33. Luna, F., & Macklin, R. (2012). Research involving human beings, vulnerability and exploitation. In H. Kuhse & P. Singer (Eds.), A companion to bioethics (pp. 459–468). Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  34. Madriga, A. (2010). Brain scan lie-detection deemed far from ready for courtroom. Wired. Accessed 10 June 2014.
  35. McClure, S. M., Li, J., Tomlin, D., Cypert, K. S., Montague, L. M., & Montague, P. R. (2004). Neural correlates of behavioral preference for culturally familiar drinks. Neuron, 44(2), 379–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mobley, A., Henry, S., & Plemmons, D. (2008). Protecting prisoners from harmful research. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 45, 33–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Morewedge, C. K., Huh, Y. E., & Vosgerau, J. (2010). Thought for food: Imagined consumption reduces actual consumption. Science, 330(6010), 1530–1533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Morrin, M., & Ratneshwar, S. (2003). Does it make sense to use scents to enhance brand memory? Journal of Marketing Research, 40(1), 10–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Murphy, E. R., Illes, J., & Reiner, P. B. (2008). Neuroethics of neuromarketing. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 7(4–5), 293–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nordenfeldt, L. (2009). The concept of dignity, In Y.I. Ulman, et al., 2009,7–14. Expanding medical ethics to bioethics. Turkish Bioethics Association, publication No. XII.Google Scholar
  41. Oullier, O. (2012). Clear up this fuzzy thinking on brain scans: France has banned commercial applications of brain imaging. Nature, World View, 29 Feb 2012. Accessed 10 June 2014.
  42. Oviedo. (1997). Convention for the protection of human rights and dignity of the human being with regard to the application of biology and medicine: Convention on human rights and biomedicine, Oviedo, 4. IV. 1997. Accessed 6 Jan 2013.
  43. Pessiglione, M., Petrovic, P., Daunizeau, J., Palminteri, S., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, C. D. (2008). Subliminal instrumental conditioning demonstrated in the human brain. Neuron, 59(4), 561–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Plassmann, H., Kenning, P., Deppe, M., Kugel, H., & Schwindt, W. (2008). How choice ambiguity modulates activity in brain areas representing brand preference: evidence from consumer neuroscience. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 7(4–5), 360–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Plassmann, H., Ramsøy, T. Z., & Milosavljevic, M. (2012). Branding the brain: A critical review and outlook. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(1), 18–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Racine, E. (2010). Pragmatic neuroethics: improving treatment and understanding of the mind–brain. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  47. Rees, D., & Rose, S. (2004). The new brain sciences: Perils and prospects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Shamoo, A. E., & Resnik, D. B. (2009). Collaboration between academia and private industry. In Responsible conduct of research (pp. 87–91). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Slowther, A., & Kleinman, I. (2009). Confidentiality. In P. Singer & A. M. Viens (Eds.), The Cambridge textbook of bioethics (pp. 43–48). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Stoll, M., Baecke, S., & Kenning, P. (2008). What they see is what they get? An fMRI-study on neural correlates of attractive packaging. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 7(4–5), 342–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. The Lancet Neurology. (2004). Neuromarketing: beyond branding. Lancet Neurology, 3, 71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tom, G., Nelson, C., Srzentic, T., & King, R. (2007). Mere exposure and the endowment effect on consumer decision making. The Journal of Psychology, 141(2), 117–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tusche, A., Bode, S., & Haynes, J. D. (2010). Neural responses to unattended products predict later consumer choices. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30(23), 8024–8031.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (1948). Accessed 6 Jan 2013.
  55. Vecchiato, G., Astolfi, L., De Vico Fallani, F., Toppi, J., Aloise, F., Bez, F., et al. (2011). On the use of EEG or MEG brain imaging tools in neuromarketing research. Computational Intelligence and Neuroscience, 2011, 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. World Medical Association. (2013). World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki. Ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects, amended at the 64th WMA General Assembly, Fortaleza, Brazil, October (2013). Accessed on 15 Dec 2013.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical History and EthicsAcibadem University School of MedicineIstanbulTurkey
  2. 2.Cognitive Sciences Program, Informatics InstituteMiddle East Technical UniversityCankaya-AnkaraTurkey
  3. 3.Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Bogazici UniversityIstanbulTurkey
  4. 4.Acibadem University School of MedicineIstanbulTurkey

Personalised recommendations