fMRI has always been a little misused, to people who know what they are talking about. 20 years after it was first done, the promise seems to have been overrun by agenda-based cultural mapping.

Despite a rash of media articles that claim to show the reaction of the brain when something is seen or done, and questionable concepts designed to exploit it - goofy nonsense like that Republicans brains are better than Democrats because they are more rational or that we can read minds - researchers who aren't selling 21st century paranormal books know there has to be a lot of caution in making fMRI correlation and causation arrows about behavior and claiming it must be biology.

Yet while psychology as science has fallen short of the mark and become consumed with surveys of college students and fMRIs, the one area where psychology has always shined has continued to expand the frontier; the field of applied marketing.

NeuroSpire CEO Jake Stauch makes no pretense about what his company is doing and how credible it is.   "Somebody with no training whatsoever could be set up in minutes to run a brain imaging research study," he told Colin Lecher at Popular Science.  And you know what? He's right. Scientists are horrified to hear that but it's true - that is the level of expertise needed to make a determination about fMRI pictures and it's why so many goofy determinations are made. Someone, somewhere, has hooked up an fMRI to someone and can support any claim you want to make. 

But applied marketing is another animal. An fMRI can show what is happening when people see a product on a store shelf and that has value; whether or not this neuromarketing is real is something else, but no advertising can be scientifically validated. Yet we know advertising works. The distance between a science battle lost, if I may paraphrase Napoleon, and a science battle won is immense - and there stand empires.  Basically, pictures of neurons are fine, believe them if you want to believe cognitive operations are modular, but to (again) paraphrase, this time an old baseball saying, claims about pictures "ain't where the Cadillacs are."

Results are, though.  And modern-day neuromarketing says it can provide them; as sparse as how well an ad 'scored' with people who used the Neurospire device Lecher wrote about to reactions broken down by second. Does that translate into sales?  To paraphrase for the third time, in this instance old car executives, there is no way for the device to tell if an ad "moved the iron" but it feels a lot more science-y than claiming fMRI validates acupuncture.

H/T Sanjay Srivastava and Molly Crockett