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Sinister news today, as psychologists in the US unveil plans for so-called "neuromarketing" - the use of magnetic-resonance brainscans to maximise the appeal of products while they are being designed.

Dan Ariely and his colleague Gregory S Burns - professors in the fields of psychology, behavioral economics, psychiatry and "neuropolicy" - contend that using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging brain scans (fMRI) technology on test subjects while preparing a product could be marketing gold.

"Neuromarketing may prove to be an affordable way for marketers to gather information that was previously unobtainable, or that consumers themselves may not even be fully aware of," says Ariely, according to a statement released yesterday by Duke University, where he is based.

Techno mindreading preparation, according to Ariely, needn't be limited to such applications as selecting designs for cars, gadgets etc. It would also be ideal for gauging people's reactions to food, entertainment, buildings and more.

Perhaps most sinisterly of all, Ariely comments that "neuromarketing" could also become a major factor in the "design phase" of "political candidates".

The two profs' paper, Neuromarketing: the hope and hype of neuroimaging in business, is published here in Nature Reviews Neuroscience (subscriber link). ®

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