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Imagine you are standing at a street with heavy traffic watching someone on the other side of the road. Do you think your brain is implicitly registering your willingness to buy any of the cars passing by outside your focus of attention? To address this question, we measured brain responses to consumer products (cars) in two experimental groups using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants in the first group (high attention) were instructed to closely attend to the products and to rate their attractiveness. Participants in the second group (low attention) were distracted from products and their attention was directed elsewhere. After scanning, participants were asked to state their willingness to buy each product. During the acquisition of neural data, participants were not aware that consumer choices regarding these cars would subsequently be required. Multivariate decoding was then applied to assess the choice-related predictive information encoded in the brain during product exposure in both conditions. Distributed activation patterns in the insula and the medial prefrontal cortex were found to reliably encode subsequent choices in both the high and the low attention group. Importantly, consumer choices could be predicted equally well in the low attention as in the high attention group. This suggests that neural evaluation of products and associated choice-related processing does not necessarily depend on attentional processing of available items. Overall, the present findings emphasize the potential of implicit, automatic processes in guiding even important and complex decisions.

This is the abstract of a very interesting paper by Anita Tusche, Stefan Bode and John-Dylan Haynes that goes by the name of Neural Responses to Unattended Products Predict Later Consumer Choices that shed new light to how our unconscious processes information that later influence our choices. The article can be found here (under pay wall), and you can find some notes about it on this post on Neuromarketing blog.

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