2018 Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA, USA
November 1-2

Consumer Neuroscience Technology to Understand How We Make the Decision to Buy Things

Dr. Carl Marci is Chief Neuroscientist at Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience, a global segment of the Nielsen company that provides a comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior. Dr. Marci is also Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Marci is a leader in social and consumer neuroscience, specializing in research, statistics and biometrics.

Dr. Marci will talk about the ethics of consumer neuroscience, privacy and autonomy as part of the free public event titled “My Brain Made Me Buy It? The Neuroethics of Advertising,” on Thursday, November 1 at the INS Annual Meeting in San Diego.

Carl Marci

What is your background?

I obtained my Masters in Psychology and Philosophy at Oxford University in the UK and completed my medical training at Harvard Medical School. I was interested in the neuroscience of emotion, so I started studying the patient–doctor relationship and how brains understand each other. Then, by chance, I was talking to a business student while I was a visiting lecturer at MIT who suggested biometrically monitoring people’s reactions to videos. That led me to co-found Innerscope Research in 2006. In 2015, Innerscope Research was acquired by Nielsen and we became Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience.

What is consumer neuroscience?

Consumer neuroscience is the application of technology that measures non-conscious and non-verbal responses to provide companies with deeper insight into consumers’ engagement with marketing materials and decision-making habits. In our labs we have a suite of tools, such as EEG to collect and measure brain activity, technologies that capture heart rate and skin response, and eye trackers that non-invasively monitor people as they view marketing and media content. We understand moment-by-moment changes in consumer engagement and emotional response that help companies make more impactful advertisements in order to better connect with their target consumers. In addition to optimizing advertising creative, the research we do can also inform product and packaging design.

What are the ethical consequences of new advertising techniques?

New technology is challenging social boundaries in many areas. However, as far as consumer neuroscience is concerned, first we have to separate perception from reality. We cannot read people’s minds or create powerful advertisements that undermine their free will. The reality is our methods and insights lead to better messaging and advertising. Advertisements can affect behavior which is not in itself an ethical issue, but that’s different to manipulating behavior which would be an ethical issue. There is a voluntary code of ethics in the industry that we strictly adhere to and all our research participants are paid and provide their informed consent.

What got you interested in neuroethics?

I’ve been involved in neuroethics debates for about 12 years now and I have always felt the best way to inform the public and interested parties is to be honest. I welcome the opportunity to say what we are doing and how we are doing it. As we learn more about the brain, the concerns that people have today may be ethical for tomorrow. The neuroethics movement ensures we stay on the right path. We need to be prepared as technologies evolve.

Why should people attend the 'My Brain Made Me Buy It' public program?

People should attend to find out more about the incredible technology behind consumer neuroscience. We want to hear their views, too. Despite the fact that the consumer neuroscience industry is continuing to grow due to increased acceptance, there are still questions and concerns raised about these methodologies, including whether they are socially and ethically acceptable. My presentation will address these concerns, followed by a panel discussion with computational neuroscientist Dr. Read Montague and Dr. Uma Karmarker, an expert in consumer behavior, which will be moderated by Dr. Steve Hyman. Join us to find out more about how consumer neuroscience, new channels for marketing, shifts in privacy, and big data are changing the way brands engage with consumers. It is an exciting time in the industry.


Online registration is available through October 25.