Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on LinkedIn

How our brains take in and interpret the world around us

March 2, 2015 0 Comments

This is the first is a series of posts about the cognitive processes that underlie consumer responses to marketing, advertising, products, brands, shopping, and entertainment.

In contrast to earlier models of thought that focused only on conscious mental processes, modern neuroscience, social psychology, and behavioral economics give us a much more realistic, but also more complex, understanding of how people think, decide, and act in the real world.



The figure above presents a simplified version of the “cognitive timeline” through which the human mind processes incoming sense impressions and responds to them in terms of decisions and actions. It doesn’t contain every nuance that academic researchers dwell upon, but it does show how neuroscience and related disciplines provide a more realistic foundation for looking at consumer thinking and behavior. The model has four key steps:

  • Forming impressions: As we interact with the world around us, our brains form impressions from input we receive through our senses.
  • Determining meaning and value: We determine the meaning and value of the impressions we’ve formed by making rapid mental connections to other things we have stored in memory.
  • Deliberating and analyzing: We deliberate and analyze by engaging in internal “mental conversations” with ourselves.
  • Speaking and acting: We express ourselves by speaking and acting — that is, we engage in actual behavior.

This model helps us understand the roles played by conscious and nonconscious brain processes, and how they interact:

  • Our perceptual systems produce impressions in a completely nonconscious way. We have no conscious access to how our brains take in visual, auditory, or other sensory information and turn them into perceived sights, sounds, smells, and so on.
  • Similarly, how we determine meaning and value by connecting our impressions to other concepts and ideas in our long-term memory occurs outside our awareness.
  • Deliberating and analyzing are usually conscious processes. They include a wide variety of thinking activities we’re directly aware of, such as memorizing and remembering, calculating, and planning.
  • Speaking and acting are usually conscious. Expressions are behaviors that are observable by others, through hearing and seeing us.

This simple model has some interesting variations. For instance, it’s possible to get from determining meaning and value to speaking and acting without intervening deliberation or analysis. This is what people normally mean by “doing something without thinking about it.” Examples include learned skills like driving or riding a bicycle.

In later posts, I will discuss each of these stages in the cognitive timeline.

N4D-cover -120pxThis post is excerpted, with minor edits, from Neuromarketing for Dummies, Chapter 2, “What We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then.”

Filed in: Science • Tags: ,

About the Author:

Steve is a writer, speaker, researcher, and marketing consultant. He is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019), a study of persuasion and influence in marketing theory and practice, and co-author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013), a comprehensive overview of neuromarketing science, applications, methodologies, and ethics. He is Managing Partner at Intuitive Consumer Insights, where he focuses on marketing education and consulting.

Leave a Reply

Prove you're human, please * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.