Believe it or not, neuroscience (in its widest context) has been around for quite some time. For centuries we have been interested in understanding the workings of the human brain.
Up until the 20th Century, neuroscience was the study of the nervous system within the scientific disciplines that make up biology. After this time, it began to become established as its own field.
Today, the neuroscience is often applied to study and build an understanding of human behaviour (not just the workings of the brain).
Of particular interest to businesses is a relatively recent area of neuroscience known as cognitive neuroscience, which brings together the traditional disciplines of cognitive psychology and neuroscience – looking at the cognitive processes that shape behaviour and relating them to underlying theories of brain function.
Cognitive neuroscience aims to investigate and measure cognitive abilities and behaviour ranging from perception and motor processing through to thoughts and emotions through the use of diverse research methods, techniques and experimental paradigms.
Much of the neuroscience research conducted in the business context is focused on understanding consumer behaviour. Commonly referred to neuromarketing. It’s purpose is to understand how marketing related stimuli along the entire consumer product lifecycle, be that anything from advertising and branding to point of sale and store layout, grabs and holds attention, affects emotional valence and intensity and is encoded in memory and recalled all in order ultimately to improve/enhance the customer experience and/or perception and support the drive for sales.
However, cognitive neuroscience can be applied to every aspect of business and deployed in many industry sectors both to support business operations and to enhance a business proposition.
Here are some examples:
Occupational health and operational risk management: Studies have shown that mental fatigue can impair cognitive functions making us slower to respond, less accurate and more likely to make mistakes. For instance, unsociable shift patterns and/or long periods of intensive cognitive activity and ‘information or sensory overload’ can impact performance and decision making. Neuroscience can offer insight as to during which specific activities, at which point in time and to what extent the effects of mental fatigue start to become evident. Such insight enables a business to develop work flows and schedules, resourcing plans and so on to minimise the risks associated with cognitive overload and mental fatigue.
Neuroscience can inform transport planning, tourism, urban and architectural design, as well as retailers and those concerned with spatial navigation; by providing an understanding of the ease (or difficulty) with which people can navigate through a place, how they interact with the environment and the impact this has on wellbeing, decision making and experience.
From a human resource management perspective, neuroscience can have an impact in a number of practical areas such as performance management, learning and development, change management, wellbeing and engagement initiatives as well as managing challenging and stressful situations. Armed with insight about how and why we behave the way we do, HR teams can work on adapting their policies, processes and practices to enhance the employee experience more effectively.
At its simplest; it’s about understanding why, in any given situation, we behave the way we do and taking that insight to make things better.
So, whatever your area of business and whatever industry you’re in, neuroscience offers an opportunity to get an objective view of behaviour (assuming the hypothesis is framed correctly and the study designed to ensure objectivity) because you are not relying on the subject giving you a conscious response which might be weighted to avoid offending, giving the ‘wrong’ answer or being judged in some way.