Why Consumer Psychology Needs Neurophilosophy
The possibility that the neural correlates of consumer behavior can be identified is intriguing for consumer theorists and market analysts alike. The possibility of explaining consumer choice in terms of neural events promises to link consumer psychology with biology and to relate some of the most ubiquitous aspects of human behavior to their evolutionary origins. As Bickle (Philosophy and Neuroscience: A Ruthlessly Reductive Account, Dordrecht, p. xiii, 2003) puts it: “We move closer every day to actually having something that human beings have speculated about for centuries, a purely physical account of behavioral causes.” The result according to some could be a genuine consilience of the social and biological sciences. The possibility that such aspects of consumer choice as brand and retail preferences might come under greater managerial control clearly motivates industrial concerns to seek out tools of “neuromarketing” on which to base market strategies that enhance corporate effectiveness and profitability. The hope that consumer cognition might turn out to be reducible to neurophysiological functioning raises both expectations and concern over the potential to influence thought and actions. It is time to take stock.
Hardcastle and Stewart (The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Neuroscience, Oxford, 2009) prompt us to ask such questions as: Does fMRI scanning genuinely provide a “cerebrascope” which permits the tacking of cognition? Do the firing patterns of neurons constitute actual thoughts, or the physical representations of thoughts just correlate of thoughts, or what? Two questions we ought to pose before we give way to speculation are “How far can neurophysiological events shed light on cognition?” and “What is the role of behavior, especially verbal behavior, in interpreting neural events?” This chapter argues that consumer psychology is in need of a neurophilosophy that relates neuroscience to the explanation of behavior via the construction of cognitive processing. Neurophilosophy in this sense relates to the implications of neurophysiological research for the explanation of behavior.
The chapter first discusses the potential role of neuroscience in consumer psychology and goes on to consider some of the difficulties involved in interdisciplinary research of the required kind. It goes on to enquire: “What is the most appropriate level of analysis for this work if a convincing case is to be made for a consumer neuroscience that genuinely contributes to the explanation of consumer choice?”
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