Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.
I’m partway through “Syndrome E”, a French police procedural thriller centred around an obscure, unlabelled, film that does disturbing things to those who watch it.
It explores the idea that, if it is the mind and not the eye that sees, then perhaps image can push their way directly into the mind without our eyes noticing them.
I’ve just read a part where a neurologist with a fancy MRI scanner explains how the scanner can monitor the emotional reaction of the brain to images. He gets funding for this kind of work because he uses the results for “Neuromarketing.”
This struck me as a much wackier idea than people getting killed because of their association with an evil film.
Imagine if you could use MRIs literally to read people’s minds and know exactly which image was going to get the emotional response you’re looking for.
Obviously, the ethics suck. Convincing someone to buy something without consciously engaging them smells of snake-oil to me.
Imagine a neuromarketing-powered Donald Trump campaign. You’d have this nagging conviction that, no matter how ridiculous and offensive his ideas sounded, underneath it all, they made sense.
It was such a scary idea that I googled neuromarketing to put my mind at rest.
Apparently this part of “Syndrome E” was not fiction. They really do spend MRI time figuring out if you like Coke more than Pepsi and there are companies out there, like SalesBrain, that proudly boast that they can use the science of neuromarketing to capture, convince and close customers.
There’s even a TED talk, given by a Frenchman as it happens, called, “Is There A Buy Button In The Brain?”
Of course, just because it’s on a TED Talk doesn’t make it true. Although the fact that most TED talks target the reptilian brain does mean it will be remembered, repeated and absorbed into your worldview without the need for rational analysis.
It seems that I’m not the only one who finds the idea of fueling neuromarketing with MRI-checked reactions scary. The French government has banned this kind of research saying that ““Brain-imaging methods can be used only for medical or scientific research purposes or in the context of court expertise.”
Which is why the characters in my French novel had to drive for a couple of hours and cross a border to consult an expert in Belgium. Yet another piece of really effective legislation.