by Joe Brewer
One of the greatest threats to democracy in the 21st Century is the profound ability for marketing to influence human behavior. How can we claim that politicians are elected by the people when the foundations of human decision-making are outside conscious awareness? I’ve been reading The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind by A.K. Prandeep and pondering how contemporary brain research is capable of influencing elections and managing public perceptions.
Deep insights into the workings of our brains are being packaged for marketing practitioners in the corporate world, as this video declares in no uncertain terms:
Scanning blogs like Neuroscience Marketing we can see that the latest findings in cognitive science are already being applied to the manipulation of consumer decisions. One article goes so far as to assert that “neuromarketers know you better than you know yourself.” And the author is right. What are the implications of this growing field on the climate debate, media coverage of environmental disasters caused by large corporations, and social movements spawned by billionaires to influence political outcomes?
We are living in a time of great consequences. The monumental threats of human-caused climate disruption, depletion of natural resources, and massive income inequality must be addressed in the next several decades. These are immensely challenging problems that require unprecedented levels of global cooperation to solve. We need political systems that are transparent and accountable, yet the most powerful influencers of global governance — multinational corporations — are as cryptic as ever in their methods. And the inclusion of neuromarketing will only give them greater abilities to mold the world’s citizens into consumers.
When I set out to understand the human mind nearly a decade ago, my hope was that we could bring a more accurate picture of human nature to the institutions of society. Economic systems that reflect the biological, moral, and social dimensions of human interaction. Civic engagement spurred by evoking the deeply held concerns of people in a world of complex threats that are very real. Instead, what I am seeing is a greater encroachment upon the unconscious aspects of human thought and behavior by predatory actors in a planetary competition to colonize the cognitive landscape with their brands.
Neuromarketing is a fundamental threat to democracy in the 21st Century. In what may well be our greatest time of need for legitimate governance, we have in our midst a set of practices so elusive that civil society may be ensnared without knowing it. There being no outward evidence or physical manifestation of the cage holding the public mind.
Will you join me in calling for greater scrutiny of the cognitive aspects of politics? As a practitioner of strategy development informed by cognitive science, I am fully aware of the need for high levels of accountability in this domain of practice. We must protect ourselves against unethical and exploitative operations by those who seek to gain dominion over our minds. At the same time, we must recognize the powerful role of psychology and brain research for comprehending large-scale human behavior in the midst of immense global challenges. This may be a fine line to walk, but there it remains.
Politics in the 21st Century will be dominated by insights into the political brain. The question that remains is whether this knowledge will be our liberation from harm or if it will be the enslavement that seals our doom.