Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 144, Issue 4, pp 799–811 | Cite as

Neuromarketing: Ethical Implications of its Use and Potential Misuse

  • Steven J. Stanton
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
  • Scott A. Huettel
Article

Abstract

Neuromarketing is an emerging field in which academic and industry research scientists employ neuroscience techniques to study marketing practices and consumer behavior. The use of neuroscience techniques, it is argued, facilitates a more direct understanding of how brain states and other physiological mechanisms are related to consumer behavior and decision making. Herein, we will articulate common ethical concerns with neuromarketing as currently practiced, focusing on the potential risks to consumers and the ethical decisions faced by companies. We argue that the most frequently raised concerns—threats to consumer autonomy, privacy, and control—do not rise to meaningful ethical issues given the current capabilities and implementation of neuromarketing research. But, we identify how potentially serious ethical issues may emerge from neuromarketing research practices in industry, which are largely proprietary and opaque. We identify steps that can mitigate associated ethical risks and thus reduce the threats to consumers. We conclude that neuromarketing has clear potential for positive impact on society and consumers, a fact rarely considered in the discussion on the ethics of neuromarketing.

Keywords

Consumer behavior Decision making Ethics Hormones fMRI Marketing Neuromarketing Neuroscience 

References

  1. BBC. (2014). Facebook admits failings over emotion manipulation study. BBC News, doi: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-29475019.
  2. Berns, G. S., & Moore, S. E. (2012). A neural predictor of cultural popularity. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 154–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Black, D. W. (2007). A review of compulsive buying disorder. World Psychiatry, 6, 14–18.Google Scholar
  4. Black, D. W., Gabel, J., Hansen, J., & Schlosser, S. (2000). A double-blind comparison of fluvoxamine versus placebo in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 12, 205–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boksem, M. A. S., & Smidts, A. (2015). Brain responses to movie-trailers predict individual preferences for movies and their population-wide commercial success. Journal of Marketing Research, 52, 482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Camus, M. C., Halelamien, N., Plassmann, H., Shimojo, S., O’Doherty, J., Camerer, C., et al. (2009). Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation over the right dorsolateral preforntal cortex decreases valuations during food choices. European Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 1980–1988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Bayer, J., Tinney, F. J., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Neural correlates of susceptibility to group opinions in online word-of-mouth recommendations. Journal of Marketing Research, 52, 559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chartrand, T. L. (2005). The role of conscious awareness in consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 15, 203–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clithero, J. A., & Rangel, A. (2013). Informatic parcellation of the network involved in the computation of subjective value. Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 1289–1302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clithero, J. A., Tankersley, D., & Huettel, S. A. (2008). Foundations of neuroeconomics: from philosophy to practice. PLoS Biology, 6(11), e298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Martino, B., Kumaran, D., Seymour, B., & Dolan, R. J. (2006). Frames, biases, and rational decision-making in the human brain. Science, 313(5787), 684–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Duhigg, C. (2012). How companies learn your secrets (Electronic Version). The New York Times. Retrieved Oct 1, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&.
  13. Durante, K. M., & Arsena, A. R. (2015). Playing the field: The effect of fertility on women’s desire for variety. Journal of Consumer Research, 41, 1372–1391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Durante, K. M., Griskevicius, V., Cantu, S. M., & Simpson, J. A. (2014). Money, status, and the ovulatory cycle. Journal of Marketing Research, 51, 27–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Durante, K. M., Griskevicius, V., Hill, S. E., Perilloux, S. E., & Li, N. P. (2011). Ovulation, female competition, and product choice: Hormonal influences on consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 37, 921–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eisenegger, C., Naef, M., Snozzi, R., Heinrichs, M., & Fehr, E. (2010). Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour. Nature, 463(7279), 356-U104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Esch, F., Moll, T., Schmitt, B., Elger, C. E., Neuhaus, C., & Weber, B. (2012). Brands on the brain: Do consumers use declarative information or experienced emotions to evaluate brands? Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 75–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Falk, E. B., Morelli, S. A., Welborn, B. L., Dambacher, K., & Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Creating buzz: The neural correlates of effective message propagation. Psychological Science, 24, 1234–1242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ferraro, R., Bettman, J. R., & Chartrand, T. L. (2009). The power of strangers: The effect of incidental consumer brand encounters on brand choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 729–741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fitzsimons, G. J., Hutchinson, J. W., Williams, P., Alba, J. W., Chartrand, T. L., Huber, J., et al. (2002). Non-conscious influences on consumer choice. Marketing Letters, 13, 267–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fortunato, V. C. R., Giraldi, J. M. E., & Oliveira, J. H. C. (2014). A review of studies on neuromarketing: Practical results, techniques, contributions, and limitations. Journal of Management Research, 6, 201–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grey, T., Healy, J. M., Linn, S., Rowe, J., Ruskin, G., & Villani, V. S. (2003). Commercial alert asks emory university to halt neuromarketing experiments. Retrieved Sept 29, 2014, from http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/culture/neuromarketing/commercial-alert-asks-emory-university-to-halt-neuromarketing-experiments.
  23. Huettel, S. A., Song, A. W., & McCarthy, G. (2014). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (3rd ed.). Sunderland: Sinauer Associates.Google Scholar
  24. Innerscope. (2014). Innerscope research, 1 Oct. 2014, <http://www.innerscoperesearch.com (Electronic Version). Retrieved Oct. 22, 2014 from http://innerscoperesearch.com/.
  25. Joffe, S. (2014). Revolution or reform in human subjects research oversight. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 40, 922–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kant, I. (1785/1959). Foundations of the metaphysics of morals (L. White Beck, Trans.). Indianapolis: ITT Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing Company, Inc (Original work published 1785).Google Scholar
  27. Karmarkar, U. R., Shiv, B., & Knutson, B. (2015). Cost conscious? The neural and behavioral impact of price primacy on decision-making. Journal of Marketing Research, 52, 467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Keller, K. L. (2000). The brand report card. Harvard Business Review, 78, 147–157.Google Scholar
  29. Knutson, B., Adams, C. M., Fong, G. W., & Hommer, D. (2001). Anticipation of increasing monetary reward selectively recruits nucleus accumbens. The Journal of Neuroscience, 21, RC159.Google Scholar
  30. Knutson, B., Rick, S., Wimmer, G. E., Prelec, D., & Loewenstien, G. (2007). Neural predictors of purchases. Neuron, 53, 147–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kramer, A. D. I., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(24), 8788–8790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kuhnen, C. M., & Knutson, B. (2005). The neural basis of financial risk taking. Neuron, 47, 763–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Levallois, C., Clithero, J. A., Wouters, P., Smidts, A., & Huettel, S. A. (2012). Translating upwards: Linking the neural and social sciences via neuroeconomics. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13, 789–797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lichters, M., Brunnlieb, C., Nave, G., Sarstedt, M., & Vogt, B. (2015). The influence of serotonin deficiency on choice deferral and the compromise effect. Journal of Marketing Research. doi:10.1509/jmr.14.0482
  35. Meissner, M., Musalem, A., & Huber, J. (2015). Eye tracking reveals processes that enable conjoint choices to become increasingly efficient with practice. Journal of Marketing Research. doi:10.1509/jmr.13.0467
  36. Maschke, K. J. (2008). Human research protections: Time for regulatory reform? Hastings Center Report, 38, 19–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McClernon, F. J., Hiott, F. B., Huettel, S. A., & Rose, J. E. (2005). Abstinence-induced changes in self-report craving correlate with event-related FMRI responses to smoking cues. Neuropsychopharmacology, 30(10), 1940–1947.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McClure, S. M., Li, C., Tomlin, D., Cypert, K. S., Montague, L. M., & Montague, P. R. (2004). Neural correlates of behavioral preference for culturally familiar drinks. Neuron, 44, 379–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Moore, T. E. (1982). Subliminal advertising: what you see is what you get. Journal of Marketing, 46, 38–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Murphy, E. R., Illes, J., & Reiner, P. B. (2008). Neuroethics of neuromarketing. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 7, 293–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nill, A., & Schibrowsky, J. A. (2007). Research on marketing ethics: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Macromarketing, 27, 256–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Plassmann, H., O’Doherty, J., Shiv, B., & Rangel, A. (2008). Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105, 1050–1054.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Plassmann, H., Ramsoy, T. Z., & Milosavljevic, M. (2012). Branding the brain: A critical review and outlook. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 18–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Plassmann, H., Venkatraman, V., Huettel, S. A., & Yoon, C. (2015). Consumer neuroscience: Applications, challenges, and possible solutions. Journal of Marketing Research, 52, 427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Plassmann, H., & Weber, B. (2015). Individual differences in marketing placebo effects: Evidence from brain imaging and behavioral experiments. Journal of Marketing Research, 52, 493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pozharliev, R., Verbeke, W. J. M. I., Van Strien, J. W., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2015). Merely being with you increases my attention to luxury products: Using EEG to understand consumers’ emotional experience of luxury branded products. Journal of Marketing Research, 52, 546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Reimann, M., Castano, R., Zaichkowsky, J., & Bechara, A. (2012). How we relate to brands: Psychological and neurophysiological insights into consumer-brand relationships. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 128–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reimann, M., Zaichowsky, J., Neuhaus, C., Bender, T., & Weber, B. (2010). Aesthetic package design: A behavioral, neural, and psychological investigation. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 20, 431–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rogers, S. (1992). How a publicity blitz created the myth of subliminal advertising. Public Relations Quarterly, 37, 12–17.Google Scholar
  50. Ryan, K. J., Brady, J. V., Cooke, R. E., Height, D. I., Jonsen, A. R., King, P., et al. (1979). The Belmont report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research. In H. a. H. Services (Ed.). Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  51. Saad, G., & Stenstrom, E. (2012). Calories, beauty, and ovulation: The effects of the menstrual cycle on food and appearance-related consumption. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 102–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Saad, G., & Vongas, J. G. (2009). The effect of conspicuous consumption on men’s testosterone levels. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 110(2), 80–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sapienza, P., Zingales, L., & Maestripieri, D. (2009). Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(36), 15268–15273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schultheiss, O. C., & Stanton, S. J. (2009). Assessment of salivary hormones. In E. Harmon-Jones & J. S. Beer (Eds.), Methods in social neuroscience (pp. 17–44). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  55. Smidts, A., Hsu, M., Sanfey, A. G., Boksem, M. A. S., Ebstein, R. B., Huettel, S. A., et al. (2014). Advancing consumer neuroscience. Marketing Letters, 25, 257–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Smith, D. V., Hayden, B. Y., Truong, T. K., Song, A. W., Platt, M. L., & Huettel, S. A. (2010). Distinct value signals in anterior and posterior ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(7), 2490–2495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Soon, C. S., He, A. H., Bode, S., & Haynes, J.-D. (2013). Predicting free choices for abstract intentions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110, 6217–6222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Stallen, M., Smitdts, A., Rijpkema, M., Smit, G., Klucharev, V., & Fernandez, G. (2010). Celebrities and shoes on the female brain: The neural correlates of product evaluation in the context of fame. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31, 802–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Stanton, S. J., Liening, S. H., & Schultheiss, O. C. (2011a). Testosterone is positively associated with risk taking in the Iowa Gambling Task. Hormones and Behavior, 59(2), 252–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stanton, S. J., Mullette-Gillman, O. A., McLaurin, R. E., Kuhn, C. M., LaBar, K. S., Platt, M. L., et al. (2011b). Low- and high-testosterone individuals exhibit decreased aversion to economic risk. Psychological Science, 22(4), 447–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Suhler, C. L., & Churchland, P. S. (2009). Control: Conscious and otherwise. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 341–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Telpaz, A., Webb, R., & Levy, D. J. (2015). Using EEG to predict consumers’ future choices. Journal of Marketing Research, 52, 511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Venkatraman, V., Clithero, J. A., Fitzsimons, G. J., & Huettel, S. A. (2012). New scanner data for brand marketers: How neuroscience can help better understand difference in brand preferences. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 143–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Venkatraman, V., Dimoka, A., Pavlou, P. A., Vo, K., Hampton, W., Bollinger, B., et al. (2015). Predicting advertising success beyond traditional measures: New insights from neurophysiological methods and market response modeling. Journal of Marketing Research, 52, 436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Venkatraman, V., Payne, J. W., & Huettel, S. A. (2014). An overall probability of winning heuristic for complex risky decisions: Choice and eye fixation evidence. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 125, 73–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wagner, R. M. (2003). Ethical review of research involving human subjects: When and why is IRB review necessary? Muscle and Nerve, 28, 27–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wang, L., Mullette-Gillman, O. A., Gadde, K. M., Kuhn, C. M., McCarthy, G., & Huettel, S. A. (2009). The effect of acute tryptophan depletion on emotional distraction and subsequent memory. Soc Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, 4(4), 357–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wilson, R. M., Gaines, J., & Hill, R. P. (2008). Neuromarketing and consumer free will. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 42, 389–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Yoon, C., Gonzalez, R., Bechara, A., Berns, G. S., Dagher, A. A., Dube, L., et al. (2012). Decision neuroscience and consumer decision making. Marketing Letters, 23, 473–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven J. Stanton
    • 1
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
    • 2
  • Scott A. Huettel
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Business AdministrationOakland UniversityRochesterUSA
  2. 2.Kenan Institute for EthicsDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations