Neuromarketing: What Is It and Is It a Threat to Privacy?

  • Steve Matthews
Reference work entry


This entry has two general aims. The first is to profile the practices of neuromarketing (both current and hypothetical), and the second is to identify what is ethically troubling about these practices. It will be claimed that neuromarketing does not really present novel ethical challenges and that marketers are simply continuing to do what they have always done, only now they have at their disposal the tools of neuroscience which they have duly recruited. What will be presupposed is a principle of proportionality: marketing practices are morally objectionable commensurate with the degree to which they impugn the moral sovereignty of market actors. With this principle in mind, it is important to consider the literature which is skeptical about the potential for neuromarketing to be successful. If its claims are overblown, as will be suggested, then the ethical threat neuromarketing is said to pose can be viewed also as overblown. An area that has worried many is that neuromarketing poses a threat to brain privacy, and so an analysis will be given of the nature of this threat, given the principle of proportionality. It will be argued that worries about brain privacy seem, prima facie, to be justified, but on closer analysis fall away. However, a residual threat to privacy does remain: the collection over time, and aggregation of private brain information, where the target loses control over its ownership and distribution.


Marketing Practice Endowment Effect Mind Reading Vulnerable Consumer Brain Information 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Ambler, T., & Burne, T. (1999). The impact of affect on memory of advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 39(2), 25–34.Google Scholar
  2. Ambler, T., Ionnides, A., & Rose, S. (2000). Brands on the brain: Neuro-images of advertising. Business Strategy Review, 11(3), 17–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M. A., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego-depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1252–1265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bhatia, T. K. (2000). Advertising in Rural India: Language, marketing communication, and consumerism. Tokyo: Tokyo Press.Google Scholar
  5. Canli, T. (2006). When genes and brains unite: Ethical implications of genomic neuroimaging. In J. Illes (Ed.), Neuroethics: Defining the issues in theory, practice, and policy (pp. 169–183). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Desmond, J. E., & Glover, G. H. (2002). Estimating sample size in functional MRI (fMRI) neuroimaging studies: Statistical power analyses. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 118, 115–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ehrlinger, J., Johnson, K., Banner, M., Bunning, D., & Kruger, J. (2008). Why the unskilled are unaware: Further explorations of (absent) self-insight among the incompetent. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 105(1), 98–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Erk, S., Spitzer, M., Wunderlich, A., Galley, L., & Walter, H. (2002). Cultural objects modulate reward circuitry. Neuroreport, 13(18), 2499–2503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Farah, M. J., Smith, E. M., Gawuga, C., Lindsell, D., & Foster, D. (2008). Brain imaging and brain privacy: A realistic concern? Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(1), 119–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fischbach, R., & Mindes, J. (2011). Why neuroethicists are needed. In Judy, J. & J. S. Barbara (Eds.), Oxford handbook of neuroethics (pp. 343–376). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Gazzaniga, M. S. (2006). The ethical brain. New York: The Dana Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hubert, M., & Kenning, P. (2008). A current overview of consumer neuroscience. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 7, 272–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kennett, J., & Matthews, S. (2008). What’s the buzz? Undercover marketing and the corruption of friendship. The Journal of Applied Philosophy, 25(1), 2–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Knutson, B., Rick, S., Wimmer, G. E., Prelec, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2007). Neural predictors of purchase. Neuron, 53(1), 147–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kotler, P., & Keller, K. (2012). Marketing management. Boston: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  16. Lee, N., Broderick, A. J., & Chamberlain, L. (2007). What is neuromarketing: A discussion and agenda for future research. International Journal of Pyshcophysiology, 63, 199–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Levy, N. (2007). Neuroethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Levy, N. (2009). Neuromarketing: Ethical and political challenges. Etica & Politica/Ethics and Politics, XI(2), 10–17.Google Scholar
  19. Lewis, D., & Brigder, D. (2005). Market researchers make increasing use of brain imaging. Advances in Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation, 5(3), 36–37.Google Scholar
  20. Matthews, S. (2008). Privacy, separation, and control. The Monist, 91(1), 130–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 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, 379–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Miller, S., & Selgelid, M. J. (2009). Ethical and philosophical consideration of the dual-use dilemma in the biological sciences. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Moore, G. (1965). Cramming more components onto integrated circuits. Electronics, 38(8), 114–117.Google Scholar
  24. Murawski, C., Harris, P. G., Bode, S., Domínguez, D. J. F., & Egan, G. F. (2012). Led into temptation? Rewarding brand logos bias the neural encoding of incidental economic decisions. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e34155. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Murphy, E. R., & Greely, H. T. (2011). What will be the limits of neuroscience-based mindreading. In Judy, J. & J. S. Barbara (Eds.), Oxford handbook of neuroethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Murphy, E., Illes, J., & Reiner, P. B. (2008). Neuroethics of neuromarketing. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 7, 293–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nagel, T. (1998). Concealment and exposure. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 27(1), 3–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nissenbaum, H. (1998). Protecting privacy in an information age: The problem of privacy in public. Law and Philosophy, 17, 559–596.Google Scholar
  29. North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J., & McKendrick, J. (1999). The influence of in-store music on wine selections. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 271–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nutt, D. (2012). Drugs: Without the hot air. Cambridge: UIT.Google Scholar
  31. Nwahukwu, S. L. S., Vitell, S. J., Gilbert, F. W., & Barnes, J. H. (1997). Ethics and social responsibility in marketing: An examination of the ethical evaluation of advertising strategies. Journal of Business Research, 39, 107–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Packard, V. (1957). The hidden persuaders. Brooklyn: IG.Google Scholar
  33. Peters, J. F. (Ed.). (2005). Are your thoughts your own?: “Neuroprivacy” and the legal implications of brain imaging. The Committee on Science and Law. New York.
  34. Plassman, H., O’Doherty, J., & Rangel, A. (2008). Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(3), 1050–1054.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Plassman, H., Ramsoy, T. Z., & Milosavljevic, M. (2012). Branding the brain: A critical review and outlook. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(1), 18–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Thompson, C. (2003, October 25). There’s a sucker born in every medial prefrontal cortex. New York Times Magazine.
  37. Vohs, K. D., & Faber, R. (2003). Self-regulation and impulsive spending patterns. In P. A. Keller & D. W. Rook (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, 30(1), 125–126.Google Scholar
  38. Weisberg, D. S., Keil, F., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., & Gray, J. R. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(3), 470–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wilson, M. R., Gaines, J., & Hill, R. P. (2008). Neuromarketing and consumer free will. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 42, 389–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Winkielman, P., Berridge, K. C., & Wilbarger, J. L. (2005). Unconscious affective reactions to masked happy versus angry faces influence consumption behavior and judgments of value. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(1), 121–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zak, P. J., Kurzban, R., & Matzner, W. T. (2004). The neurobiology of trust. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1032, 224–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zak, P. J., Kurzban, R., & Matzner, W. T. (2005). Oxytocin is associated with human trustworthiness. Hormones and Behavior, 48, 522–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plunkett Centre for Ethics (St Vincent’s and Mater Health Sydney), Department of PhilosophyAustralian Catholic UniversitySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations