How System 1 and System 2 Thinking is Used in Consumer Neuroscience

Have you ever considered how you decide, for example, how you decided to open and read this super fascinating blog post? Chances are it was more of a cognitive process than an emotive one (unless you're a big fan of The Simpsons or Star Trek). It all comes down to your predominant system of thought at that moment before the click.

What is System 1 and System 2 Thinking?

Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 theory on thinking was popularised over the last decade, winning an award in 2012 (approximately 10 years after Kahneman won the Nobel prize in economics). Simply put, System 1 and System 2 thinking may be defined as two modes of thought: System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. System 1 and System 2 are widely used in the Neuromarketing and consumer neuroscience field as a heuristic to describe forms of information and decision processes of the consumer, based on reported psychophysiological data.

It is important to note, that Daniel Kahneman was not the originator of System 1 and System 2 theory of thinking and that there have been many formulations of this system across the history of cognitive psychology, spanning more than about 100 years. System 1 and System 2 is a dual processing theory.

Dual processing theories have been around for a long time and were likely first formulated explicitly by one of the great grandfathers of modern psychology William James, who stated that there were two different kinds of thinking: associative and true reasoning. All of these theories mainly postulate that we have two basic systems of thinking.

The mental processes according to System 1 and System 2 may be divided accordingly:

(Taken from Wikipedia page 26/11/2018: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_process_theory)

How System 1 and System 2 Thinking is Used in Neuromarketing

System 1 and System 2 data is collected by using both biometric and neurofeedback technologies. Many Neuromarketers use System 1 and System 2 to describe how consumers process marketing stimuli, which could be an advertisement, piece of communication, sensory experience or a brand health experience (most abstract stimulus).

The customer or consumer is either described as processing the information predominantly within an emotional (System 1) or a rational (System 2) framework. Recommendations are then provided to guide the client to adjust their advertising material or other marketing communications etc.., to improve the customer experience in terms of how they process information. This in effect optimises their marketing communications in order to contribute towards better ROI.

There are however some important caveats to keep in mind when considering System 1 and System 2 theory, and these include:

1. There is scant data suggesting specific neural structures and functional activities within the brain that map these processes as discrete.

Therefore, System 1 and 2 are not discretely delineated processes. Interestingly these systems therefore act as heuristics for researchers to describe complex neurobiological processes in order to explain biases in behaviour, thinking and decision making

2. Some see System 1 as emotional and therefore not logical, and system 2 as logical and therefore more rational.

However, this is not always the case. An individual can make irrational and rational decisions in both System 1 and System 2 states of thinking.

3. System 1 and System 2 theory is an intuitive and descriptive system to describe thinking in consumers.

It is important that this way of describing thinking not be seen as an absolute and that people only process information in one of two ways. Information processing is a much more nuanced and complex process, psychologists and researchers merely use dual processes theory as means of explaining these complex processes in a more understandable way for functional and pragmatic purposes

If you are a researcher in the field of consumer neuroscience or are using consumer neuroscience in your market research, you are bound to come across System 1 and System 2 thinking. A solid grasp of this theory can be obtained in Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow. We also highly recommend the book Consumer Neuroscience by Moran Cerf and Manuel Garcia-Garcia, who describe some great applications of this in consumer neuroscience.

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Email: mark.drummond@neuralsense.co.za

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