The Hope and Hype of Neuroscience in Understanding Behaviours


Outside the world of academia, there is a certain mystique around the concept of neuroscience. Classic research findings, such as how different brain regions activate when people knowingly taste Coke or Pepsi, compared to when they do a blind taste test, often lead to bold media claims of how we might be able to use neuroscience techniques to predict and even manipulate behaviour.   

Is this hype really justified? Can we really measure activity in people’s brains to find out things about how they think that we could never have done through more traditional methods like focus groups or full-blown market tests? 

Short answer? No, not really. 

The joining of neuroscience techniques with market research and strategy development clearly has promise. Although, those of you who might be keen on the idea need to be wary of what an old university lecturer of mine rather affectionately called “neurobollocks”. So much of what we see in the media about the magic of neuroimaging and the many ways in which it can unlock the “hidden parts of the mind” is, for the most part, a load of rubbish. Most of these claims come, not from trained neuroscientists, but from budding journalists and marketers hoping to be the first to discover the next big thing in consumer research. Their admittedly admirable eagerness more often than not leads them to overhype and oversimplify the findings of whatever research they come across. 

Here at Caja we like to follow a more cautious, scientifically informed, approach – taking most of what we find in the media with a healthy dose of salt. We know that when properly applied and understood, neuroscientific research can be hugely useful to our clients. As studies from behavioural science have taught us, humans have countless unconscious biases that influence their behaviour without them even realising. Having the ability to physically see these biases in action, gives us real potential to better predict the often unpredictable. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Insights from the Coke/Pepsi study I mentioned earlier have already helped us make real changes in health and social care. By understanding how people’s behaviours can be influenced by unconscious, pre-existing, beliefs about a product or service, we have been able to develop targeted interventions aimed at reducing the fear of cancer diagnosis in women who have not been attending the screenings offered to them by the NHS. First rolled-out in South Yorkshire, the initial success of this project already has us extending its reach across the North of England, with even bigger ambitions to have a similar impact in yet more business sectors.   

Neuroscience findings can be difficult to understand and surrounded in unnecessary hype. Leave it to the experts, though, and we can help you see the hope.  

If you’re interested in learning more about how Caja can help you unlock behaviours in your organisation or understand your customers better, you can contact us at or Tel: 01782 443020.