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People are terrible at predicting their own behavior. You can see this for yourself: how many of your New Year’s resolutions you really accomplished, or even tried to? That’s one of the reasons why traditional market research techniques like surveys and focus groups don’t allow an accurate view on consumer thoughts and behaviors, or if a given campaign will work or not.

Enter neuroscience and psychology experts. The application of neuroscience and psychology knowledge to marketing and advertising has been growing steadily, but there still are some doubts about the effective of these techniques. A new study by UCLA neuroscientists may help surpass those doubts and help establishing neuromarketing as a market research approach.

In this study subjects’ brains were analyzed via fMRI while seeing PSA announcements on the importance of using of sunscreen, so that the experimenters could see the way the message was being processed in the brain and what future impact it would have on subjects’ behavior. The brain scans were more accurate in predicting the usage of sunscreen than the survey responses provided by the subjects. The team of experimenters knew better than the subjects what their (the subjects) behavior would be regarding this specific behavior.

Here’s an excerpt of the UCLA press release on the study, featuring some words by Matthew Lieberman the senior author:

“There is a very long history within psychology of people not being very good judges of what they will actually do in a future situation,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. “Many people ‘decide’ to do things but then don’t do them.”

The new study by Lieberman and lead author Emily Falk, who earned her doctorate in psychology from UCLA this month, shows that increased activity in a brain region called the medial prefrontal cortex among individuals viewing and listening to public service announcement slides on the importance of using sunscreen strongly indicated that these people were more likely to increase their use of sunscreen the following week, even beyond the people’s own expectations.

While the fact that people aren’t accurate enough in predicting their own behavior is not a surprise, being able to predict their future behavior by studying their brains response to a PSA is a huge moment in the establishment of neuromarketing as credible market research alternative.

You can read the UCLA’s press release here.

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