Nobel Prize to Neuroscience and the Impacts on Marketing
Yesterday, we learned that the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to John O’Keefe and May-Britt and Edvard Moser. Thinking back to my years as a psychology student in the Moser’s lab some 15-18 years ago in Trondheim, it’s still no surprise that they did get the Nobel. Even at that time, they were extremely dedicated, focused, and nerdy but at the same time very personal, likeable and down to earth.
So what’s the deal with this Nobel Prize, and does it have any relevance at all for consumer neuroscience?
The entorhinal cortex contains a 1:1 mapping of your surroundings
In their study of rodents’ spatial abilities, the Mosers were led by early studies of O’Keefe in pointing to a specific region of the brain called the entorhinal cortex. As shown in the figure below, this is a part of a conglomerate of structures in the brain of all mammals, which is highly related to memory formation, storage and retention.
It was already known that the posterior (back) part of the hippocampus was related to spatial navigation and spatial memory, just as the anterior (front) part of the same structure was more related to object perception and memory. The interesting finding from the Mosers was that they discovered that the entorhinal cortex contains a neat 1:1 mapping of the spatial surroundings (PDF), see a great review article here (PDF). This suggests that rodents, and mammals, have an internal map in which we navigate our surroundings. Indeed, more recently the existence of this kind of “grid cells” were demonstrated in humans, too.
Consumers’ “inner map” of the store can be guided by particular salient aspects and features
This is highly related to many aspects of consumer behaviour. If anything, consumers are navigating spatial spaces in stores, online and in other situations. Understanding how we do this allows us not only to have a better model of this aspect of consumer behaviour, but also to understand when consumer navigation goes wrong. Who have not been confused by a store layout?
This is highly related to our prior study of in-store navigation, where we used NeuroVision to demonstrate that the boosting of the salience of signs had a positive effect on store navigation. This suggests that consumers’ “inner map” of the store can be guided by particular salient aspects and features. Indeed, this is also what the Mosers have found in their lab: rodents navigate by using salient cues in a room: anything from books, shelves, chairs, windows etc are extremely helpful.
When done right, basic science can be translated into actionable insights
The same goes when we are designing virtual environments: those who design virtual stores, web shops, and even games should consider how the use of salient cues can assist consumers in navigating their spatial milieu.
Basic science provides valuable insights into how our brains and minds work – but more so, we can often employ this knowledge to better understand and impact human behaviours. As with the work by the Mosers, when done right, basic science can be translated into actionable insights.