How can a buyer of neuromarketing research be sure they are getting results that are understandable, scientifically sound, and ethically produced?
A basic assumption underlying neuromarketing is that people are not conscious of their nonconscious thinking processes. So it is important for researchers who are poking around in those unrecognized sources of judgments and behavior to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of their research subjects. That is Job #1 for neuromarketing researchers.
A second ethical consideration that is especially relevant to neuromarketing is transparency of methods. When you are providing measures of responses that exist only in the mind, and in the nonconscious mind at that, you have a special obligation to provide independent evidence supporting the validity and reliability of those measures.
Here is an excerpt from our discussion of IRBs in Neuromarketing for Dummies:
Many research subject protections are mandated by law in most nations, but only for government-sponsored research. In the United States, policies for federally-funded human subjects research are specified by the Department of Health and Human Services. These policies require that all research involving human subjects be conducted under the approval of an institutional review board (IRB). Policies the IRB must approve (and re-approve annually) include:
The NMSBA Code of Ethics (available online here) is modeled on the ICC/ESOMAR "International Code on Market and Social Research" (available onilne here). It is the first industry-specific ethics statement to address the unique issues of neuromarketing research, outlining ethical practices in 12 areas that all members of the NMSBA adopt as a condition of membership.
Agreement on standards for a commercial research field is a sign of maturity. Most industries have established industry associations, which, as part of their representation of the industry as a whole, develop codes of ethics and standards for members to follow. For example, the opinion survey industry has the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the market research industry has the Marketing Research Association, and the advertising industry has the Advertising Research Foundation. Neuromarketing is beginning to move in the direction of standards, but there is still much work to be done.