Exploring the Intersection of Neuroscience and Market Research

As I mark my six-month milestone at Ideba, I’ve begun to reflect on my journey thus far into the world of market research, my first venture outside the traditional lab setting of neuroscience. Initially intimidated by the transition, I’ve found it to be an enriching experience filled with new learning opportunities and challenges. Delving into the field of market research has allowed me to broaden my perspective and apply my scientific background in novel ways. While the focus has shifted more to qualitative methods from the heavy quantitative approach of neuroscience, the fundamental principles remain unchanged: using research to understand the human experience.  

Neuroscience Fundamentals in Market Research

Though my setting has changed from the neuroscience lab to my work-from-home desk, the foundational principles of neuroscience can still offer valuable insights into market research. Our brain is full of intricate pathways, many of which we still do not fully understand, that guide our thoughts and actions. A well-studied example would be the dopamine pathways and Mesolimbic System in our brain, which play a crucial role in reward and pleasure. When we experience something rewarding, such as eating a sweet treat or receiving positive feedback, dopamine is released, reinforcing the behavior and making it more likely to be repeated. 

Similarly, in market research, underlying cognitive factors also directly influence behavior, and notably for our work, consumer behavior. For example, studies suggest that the Posterior Parietal Cortex may be responsible for generating the human Recency Bias, which can explain why recent experiences may have a stronger impact on an individual’s perception of a product or service. This is particularly relevant for our CSAT work, as well as other research like VOC and Win/Loss analysis, where understanding an individual’s experience and perceptions are integral to uncovering deeper business insights (see my previous blog post regarding human biases and how they affect the work we do).

Similarities in Research Methods

The methodologies of neuroscience and market research share surprising parallels, grounded in experimental design and project management. A fundamental (and often loaded) question that resonates in both disciplines is: How can I achieve the most accurate insights, using minimal time and resources, all while navigating biases/confounding variables? This question, in some fashion, comes up in the daily work of both neuroscience and market research. There are a few other shared research commonalities that come to mind worth noting…

  1. When designing a research project, similar considerations arise in both disciplines… What is a good sample size that will accurately represent what I want to investigate? Whether deciding on the number of cell cultures for an experiment in the lab or the number of participants needed for a CSAT study at Ideba, this is an integral part of the research process.
  2. Another shared, critical question is: What sort of methods and techniques do I want to use? In both neuroscience and market research, it’s crucial to chose the right procedures to yield reliable, accurate results. In the lab, this might involve deciding which neuron receptors to target in a drug study. In market research, it’s about crafting questions that will illuminate specific, desired insights, such as deciding between using open-ended questions or a rating scale to gather feedback on customer satisfaction.
  3. And when it comes to the analysis stage, similar principles apply. In both neuroscience and market research, I have asked myself the same questions. Am I maintaining consistency in data collection methods? Am I striving for objectivity and conducting analyses with integrity? Moreover, how do I navigate unexpected challenges? When an experiment unexpectedly fails due to equipment malfunction or interviews don’t yield sufficient information because of respondents providing limited or unclear responses, it’s crucial in both settings to remain adaptable and innovative. In research, initial methods may not always deliver the expected outcomes, so it’s important to explore alternative approaches and pivot strategies as needed to achieve meaningful results.

The Bigger Picture: Application and Impact

Ultimately, both neuroscience and market research aim to deepen our understanding of the human experience. In neuroscience, this involves exploring the intricacies of  behavior and cognition, seeking insights that could lead to advancements in health and psychological well-being. In market research, the focus is on better understanding the consumer experience in order to gain valuable business intelligence to enhance products and services for customers.

My journey thus far at Ideba has highlighted that, despite their different focuses, both disciplines share a common goal: using research to deepen insights into the human experience and improve how we serve people.

CJ Andrews — Research Manager