Neuromarketing and behavioural sciences basics

Neuromarketing and behavioural sciences study and enable us to understand the unconscious processes that motivate people’s decisions, including those related to purchases.

They are two sciences at the disposal of marketing and communication experts to better understand consumer behaviour, so as to develop more effective business strategies and foster stronger and lasting relationships with the brand.

Did you know that…

Over 75% of the decisions we make every day, in any situation, are made, first and foremost in an unconscious and therefore instinctive, automatic, and emotional way?

In fact, rationality comes into play to mediate the actions deliberated by the older, more primitive part of our brain only at a later stage.

this happens because...

The brain is made up of three different parts, formed and structured at different stages of our evolution as a species.

The PROTO-REPTILIAN BRAN, the oldest and most instinctive, is responsible for survival, and has a decisive influence on the decision-making process. It works in close contact with the LIMBIC SYSTEM, which processes emotions, also at an unconscious level and at a high speed.

The third and most recent part of the brain is the NEO-CORTEX, which is responsible for conscious and rational thought. Its operation requires a great deal of energy and cognitive effort, thus it operates slower than the aforementioned areas.

Three parts, two interdependent systems

The Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman was the first to theorize the subdivision of the three brain parts into two different systems:
System 1 > proto-reptilian and limbic brain
System 2 > neo-cortex

System 1 is fast, automatic, and intuitive. We use it to make decisions, perform actions, and perpetuate habits that we perform unconsciously. It works by intuition, associations, and feelings: it is guided by emotions, thus is energy-efficient.

System 2, on the other hand, is the logic behind the most recent part of our brain. It is slow, energy-intensive, and quickly exhausting. Its operation is negatively affected by stress and illness. System 2 works with logic, analysis, and rational thought, and we use it to perform complex tasks, learn new things, or engage in challenging conversations.

heuristics and cognitive biases

Euristiche e bias cognitivi
Our brain has finite amounts of attention and energy to tap into, thus attempts to save energy through HEURISTICS and COGNITIVE BIASES.

HEURISTICS are mental shortcuts that allow us to quickly formulate a general idea on a topic without excessive cognitive effort. They are brain strategies often based on memories, sensations, and mental associations stored in the memory of our brain, which are used frequently to draw conclusions and make quick decisions.

COGNITIVE BIASES are mental reflexes based on cognitive patterns that are not exactly proper, because they are based on wrong or distorted perceptions, prejudices, or ideologies that are not screened by a critical judgment.



Theorised by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, NUDGES are interventions that leverage cognitive biases to modify behaviours and orient them towards more ethical and effective choices in favour of society and individuals.

Mostly used in Behavioural Economics – the discipline that applies behavioural and cognitive science principles to issues related to decision-making in the economic context – nowadays nudges are applied effectively even in fields that are not purely economic, but related to everyday life, ranging from social policies to advertisement communication.

emotions and senses
guide our decisions

Emozioni e Sensi

Neuroscience has confirmed that non conscious emotional and cognitive processes are active when we encode communication, assess our adhesion to the brand identity, and process our buying decisions.

It is emotions, decoded by the limbic brain, which influence our decisions at an unconscious level, and they shall be taken into strong consideration when it comes to facilitating and motivating a choice.

It also must be considered that brands and products exist in our mind as a network of images, mostly connected to sensory features. This is why presenting stimuli that evoke the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, or hearing triggers involvement and brings a vivid image of the brand to the consumer’s mind, thus facilitating his/her choice.

Cialdini’s Principles

I principi di Cialdini

Robert Cialdini, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University (USA), studied the main heuristic mechanisms behind unconscious behaviour. He theorized and described six principles to consider in persuasive communication.

The six principles are:

1. RECIPROCITY: when people receive a favour, they are more willing to reciprocate it: in other words, we are more likely to listen to or consider a proposal from a brand or a person if they have done something practical or significant for us.

2. COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY: people often perform more than one action and unpredicted actions consistent with those they have performed in the past or even short before.

3. SOCIAL PROOF: people tend to adjust their behaviour and decisions to those of the majority.

4. LIKING: attractive or particularly charming people are generally more persuasive.

5. AUTHORITY: people who hold a leadership position or are recognised as authorities have greater persuasive abilities, which is the reason why numerous brands hire well-known and acclaimed endorsers.

6. SCARCITY: consumers are inclined to have a more positive perception, at an unconscious level, of what they perceive as exclusive or scarcely available. Our brain is indeed more sensitive to the possibility of gaining and especially losing something. “Flash”, limited offers, are based on this principle.


For more information on this topic, check out this article.


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