Why decision making is irrational and how biometrics are the future of neuromarketing

The goal of every marketing manager is to understand, create or address the buying need of consumers. Traditional marketing uses segmentation of consumers to divide them into groups and develop a communication scope to address these differently. With neuromarketing we suddenly are given the possibility of measuring the consumer’s brain and get a much deeper understanding of how they react to different brands and commercials. But the question is: does the deeper insight differs that much from traditional marketing? The answer is yes, when measured consistently and on each individual consumer.

The following article serves to purpose of answering the above question based on a deductive research approach, meaning I as a researcher are independent of what is being observed and leaves emotional factors aside. The approach to the research philosophy is epistemology as it dictates that the core goal is to find out what constitutes as acceptable knowledge in a field of study. The chosen research philosophy is positivism which rely on quantitative analysis based on desk research[1].

There is the option of using EEG and fMRI scans to map a consumer’s brain and from that knowledge divide consumers into groups, but is that really the big leap from traditional marketing? The results of using fMRI scans for advertising campaigns which had a successful outcome are many so it undoubtedly works[2]. But to reach the level of segmentation on an individual level is nowhere reached with fMRI as it holds the logistic limitations of having to be done in a laboratory. So which other neuromarketing techniques will be suitable for this? We will get back to that later, but for now let’s talk about emotional purchases.

Emotional purchases

The concept of emotional purchases are nowhere unknown. Many have experienced deciding to buy a product solely based on the recommendations of a trusted friend or paid a higher price for a specific brand even though there were cheaper alternatives.

The hypothesis of how a person’s decisions, behaviour, perceptions and evaluations all are influenced by emotions are described by Antonio Damasio, physician and neuroscientist as the Somatic-Markers Hypothesis[3].

In Damasio’s book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, he describes how the consumers decision making is created in the brain during the process of education and socialisation. These decisions are based on a connection between specific classes of somatic state and specific classes of stimuli[4]. In other words, Damasio accounts for the fact that individuals make decisions based on our emotions and these emotions are influenced by social context, education, past experience and many other factors.

It is notable to address the fact that Damasio’s Somatic Markers Hypothesis are used to test decision making processes in the “Iowa gambling task”, which are the most common experimental paradigm being used for studying behavioural and cognitive influences on decision making[5].

Based on Damasio’s findings we can conclude that it is only possible to group consumers to some extend. It is therefore needed to find a way to work around the fact that consumers have individual reactions and buying behaviours based on their individual emotions. We also need to look for a technique which are capable of measuring the consumer around the clock to be able to determine their emotional pattern. The solution for this is biometric wearable devices.

The eyes (and skin) are the window(s) to the soul

The eyes fixations tells us where the consumer’s attention are placed while the direction and distance of saccades (rapid eye movement) indicates shifts in how the consumer understands things or are being confused. Suppressed eye blinks indicate a high level of concentration, while more active eye blinks indicate that the consumer are performing a task that requires less attention[6]. Electrodermal activity (EDA) is the measurement of sweat on the skin to understand if the consumer are experiencing arousal or stimulation. EDA is a usable tool for long time measurements but it can not be used to understand the exact emotional state. This is due to the fact that there is a response time of three to five seconds from when the arousal-inducing stimulus happens[7].

The heart rate serves as an indicator of a number of psychological reactions of the consumer such as arousal, cognitive and physical effort and attention. When the consumers attention increases, the heart rate lowers and when experiencing emotional arousal the heart rate speeds up[8]. Vascular activity such as blood pressure and pulse are triggered by a wide range of psychological inputs of the consumer such as memory activation, pleasure and arousal[9].

“It’s a reliable measure of emotional arousal, especially over long time frames”

- Neuromarketing for dummies on the EDA used in Apple Watches[10]

Biometrics as the future of neuromarketing

Smart glasses have already been tested on the market with a mixed success rate and companies such as Samsung[11], Sony[12] and Alphabet[13] all have filed patents for smart contact lenses as the next step. Smart watches are already monitoring consumers by measuring their health and fitness performance. Apple has the Apple Watch, Sony has the Smartwatch 3 and Samsung has its Gear S 2 to name a few.

Apple has, with the introduction of the Apple Watch, made it possible to measure consumers heart rate, temperature and blood pressure all hours of the day, and looking at their patent applications, this is just the beginning. The company recently applied for a new patent which will enable the watch to measure hand gestures. The ability to understand how the consumer’s movement are, serves a great purpose in terms of functionality and at the same time provide companies even greater insight to consumers actions in different situations.


The findings in this article show that it is a necessity to measure the individual consumer to understand their irrational decision making. The neuromarketing techniques available has different levels of insight and logistic limitations and therefore is the best solution for individual measurements biometrics. The different biometrics need to be combined to deliver the depth needed to conclude the emotional state of the consumer. Looking at the current available products and patents by large companies, it is concluded that in the future it will be a possibility to do this. This article revolves around researching biometrics and exclude other neuromarketing practices based on the limitations that the technique needs to be accessible to wear on the body. For further research it is recommended to look into these other neuromarketing practices, and the increasing findings and data from wearable devices on eyes and wrists.

The empiricism of the article consists of books and articles that focus on conducted research on neuromarketing and behavioural psychology in a general perspective. These are used to evaluate the best practices of neuromarketing. The findings are compared to an analysis of which wearable devices that are accessible to consumers.


1 M. Saunders, P. Lewis, A Thornhil, “Research methods for business students” Pearson Education, 2009

2 Vinod Venkatraman, Angelika Dimoka, “Predicting Advertising Success Beyond Traditional Measures”, Journal of Marketing Research, August 2015. p. 437

3 Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Penguin, 1994. p. 165

4 Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Penguin, 1994. p. 177

5 Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Penguin, 1994. p. 178

6 Stephen J Genco, Andrew P. Pohlmann, Peter Steidl, Neuromarketing for dummies John Wiley & Sons, 2013, page 255

7 Stephen J Genco, Andrew P. Pohlmann, Peter Steidl, Neuromarketing for dummies John Wiley & Sons, 2013, page 257

8 Stephen J Genco, Andrew P. Pohlmann, Peter Steidl, Neuromarketing for dummies John Wiley & Sons, 2013, page 258

9 Stephen J Genco, Andrew P. Pohlmann, Peter Steidl, Neuromarketing for dummies John Wiley & Sons, 2013, page 259

10 http://engpat.kipris.or.kr/engpat/1020140129517.pdf?method=fullText&applno=1020140129517&pub_reg=P

11 http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.html&r=20&p=1&f=G&l=50&d=PG01&S1=%2820160407.PD.+AND+%28Sony.AS.+OR+Sony.AANM.%29%29&OS=PD/4/7/2016+and+%28AN/Sony+or+AANM/Sony%29&RS=%28PD/20160407+AND+%28AN/Sony+OR+AANM/Sony%29%29

12 http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=20160113760.PGNR.&OS=DN/20160113760&RS=DN/20160113760

13 http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220160094259%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20160094259&RS=DN/20160094259

14 http://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2016/03/new-motion-research-for-apple-watch-reveals-new-gestures-may-be-supported-in-the-future.html

15 Neuromarketing for dummies, page 232