One of the enduring fictions of neuromarketing is that there is a “buy button” in the brain. Marketers salivate at the thought, and consumer groups fear it. (Some might say that marketers have been pushing that button with seductive products and advertisements long before neuroscience was a recognized discipline!) In reality, though, decision making is far too complex a process to be localized to a single spot in the brain or a single neurological process that can be activated by a clever pitch. Plus, we are all different enough that whatever makes you buy something wouldn’t work well for me. Interestingly, though, scientists have located what appears to be a “stop” button that is responsible for impulse control. Affecting such diverse areas as risky behavior and addictions, this area may well be what changes your mind at the last minute when you are about to order the giant donut to go with your morning coffee or buy the big flat-screen television that caught your eye when you were shopping for a cordless phone. Neuroscientists Marcel Brass from Ghent University and Patrick Haggard of University College London have found an area, the dorsal fronto-medial cortex located just above the eyes, which appears to be responsible for stopping impulsive behavior. One might consider this a “DON’T buy button,” at least for impulse purchases.
Scientific American describes the study as, “the first neuroscientific evidence that people have self-control or the ability to reverse gears mid-action” in Impulse Stopping: When the Mind Exercises ‘Free Won’t’. The authors of the study hope that their work could lead to better understanding of conditions like attention deficit disorder (ADD) and various addictions. They plan to follow their fMRI work with more work using electroencephalography (EEG); this will let the researchers to observe communication between different parts of the brain. Marketers, meanwhile, will be trying to figure out how NOT to push this particular button.