November 15, 2023

Why the Left Brain / Right Brain Myth Is a Problem for Marketers

Marketing is the land of buzzwords and trends, some based on reality and scientific investigation and some based on myth.

One marketing myth that refuses to fade away is the supposed division between "left-brain" and "right-brain" thinking (or the related distinction between System 1 and System 2 thinking).

From crafting ad campaigns to analyzing consumer behavior, this oversimplified view of brain function has permeated the profession. Companies have gone so far as to build entire marketing frameworks around this debunked pseudoscience.

So let's dive into the neuroscience, challenging the pervasive notion that our brains can be neatly categorized into two distinct thinking styles.

A series of peer-reviewed studies, conducted over a decade ago, stand as a testament to the lack of empirical evidence for the left/right brain split. For instance, Nielsen et al. (2013) emphasize that left- and right-lateralized networks do not result in a subject-specific global brain lateralization difference. While Lindell and Kidd (2011) go further, dubbing the left-brain/right-brain classification a "neuromyth." And Allen and van der Zwanb (2019) dispel the notion of associating behavioral traits with the predominance of one hemisphere over the other.

The left-brain vs. right-brain myth, once a seemingly harmless analogy, has far-reaching implications for marketing, potentially influencing decision-making processes. By embracing a more nuanced understanding of brain function and dispelling pseudoscientific notions, marketers can pave the way for innovative, evidence-based strategies that resonate with diverse audiences.

Here are some quick examples:

  1. People often make decisions initially based on a more emotional, subconscious, and intuitive basis. Then they retroactively justify (and sometimes challenge!) these decisions with language rooted in reason and rationality.
  2. Reason and rationality themselves are likely highly social faculties (Every marketer should read The Enigma of Reason by Sperber and Mercier!): “What reason does, rather, is help us justify our beliefs and actions to others, convince them through argumentation, and evaluate the justifications and arguments that others address to us.”
  3. The interrelationships between Left and Right or System 1 and System 2 (not exactly the same thing, we know!) are important to consider for marketers or anyone who wants to persuade an audience of anything. This is even true for domains that are usually held to be less emotional and more rational, like B2B sales.
  4. Interpersonal communication (including social posts and survey responses) always has at least two elements: 1. The constative, that is, communicating particular content, describing a situation, etc.; 2. The performative, that is, inciting action, arousing emotion, etc. Classical rhetoric understood this reality!  

At Glimpse, everything we do is informed by the latest social and neuroscience findings about decision making. Our platform emphasizes the relationships between emotion, top-of-mind awareness, human language, quantitative data, and demographic data. And our dashboard uses our industry-leading generative AI to instantly identify themes, patterns, insights, and opportunities.

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