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“Neuroscience” sounds smart. “Brain” sounds scientific. But the use of these terms can be misleading. We recently showed that simply including the word “brain” in the name of an invented educational programme (“Right Brain” training) makes the product seem more interesting, more educationally effective, and more scientifically strong, than an identical programme with a “non-brain” name (“Right Start” training). These findings highlight the power of “brain-based” product names: despite the absence of scientific support consumers may be deceived into choosing a “brain-based” programme based on the perceived scientific merit of the name alone.

Marketers are using scientific words like “neuroscience” and “brain” to brand and promote educational products, leading to a striking increase in “brain-based” training programmes. While “brain-based” names sound scientific, the scientific support is lacking, and therein lies the problem. Consumers are not well-equipped to evaluate products’ scientific claims, and so may be dazzled into selecting a product with a “brain-based” name under the misapprehension that it has a strong scientific foundation.

To test the idea that a “brain-based” name favourably sways consumer opinion, we created four advertisements for a fictional educational programme. We called the programme either “Right Brain” training or “Right Start” training; half the advertisements also included a picture of a brain scan (completely unrelated to the content). The four advertisements were otherwise identical. We asked 180 participants to read one advertisement and evaluate the educational programme. Our results confirmed that a “brain-based” product name profoundly influences opinion: people thought that “Right Brain” training had greater scientific merit, would be more educationally effective, and was more interesting, than the same product named “Right Start” training. Simply including a picture of a brain in the advertisement also increased the perceived scientific rationale, despite the fact that the picture was completely unrelated to the educational programme. The results of our study provide the first demonstration that simply including the word “brain” in the name of an educational product effectively manipulates opinion. If consumers don’t carefully scrutinize the scientific claims made by products with “brain-based” names, they may mistakenly make a purchase decision based on marketing neurononsense.

Lindell, A.K., & Kidd, E. (2013). Consumers favor ‘Right Brain’ training: The dangerous lure of neuromarketing. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7 (1), 35-39.

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