fMRI Scans Lift The Lid On Buyer Behavior

As crowdfunding has taken off, there have been numerous studies attempting to better understand why people choose to back a particular project. Many of these have relied upon things such as surveys and self-reports to gauge the thinking of users after they’ve backed a venture. A recent study from the University of Michigan highlights how much more effective brain scans are in providing accurate insights.

The authors began their work in an attempt to overcome the limitations of surveys. They were confident that such methods fail to provide accurate insights into consumer behavior as participants often give socially acceptable answers rather than their true beliefs. It’s also common for participants not to accurately recall their thinking at particular moments in time. By contrast, measuring neural activity provides a much more realistic insight into individual choices and behavior.

Inside our minds

The researchers scanned the brain of participants as they undertook a range of decision-making tasks in the hope of gaining a better insight into our buying decisions.

“Surveys and behavioral reporting can work for a lot of things, but they’re not great for everything,” the authors say. “So much consumer behavior happens at the implicit level, and traditional tools often fall short of capturing what’s unobservable.”

Participants were placed inside fMRI scanners whilst they selected projects to support on Kickstarter. They were then asked a series of follow up questions about the pitches. Each project was then monitored to see whether it achieved their target funding levels.

The brain scans revealed a high level of activity in the nucleus accumbens part of the brain during the period when the participants were making their judgements on each project. What’s more, the higher the level of activity in this part of the brain, the higher the chances were that the project would successfully meet its funding goal.

Relatively early response in the brain carries a great deal of weight in predicting what people will choose for themselves as well as what others in the marketplace will choose,” the authors say. “We did a second experiment, to check that the findings replicate and they do.”

The authors believe that their finding could not only provide insights into how buying decisions are made, but also help marketers to better understand the biases that tend to be inherent in surveys and self-reports. This insight might help them to develop reporting mechanisms to better account for these.

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