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The Impact Zone

Rob Johnston

"I had a desire to gain financial and strategic training to further advance my career, and I got it at Tippie."

The Impact Zone

Tippie at Forefront of Neuroscience in Business

by Michael Thompson, 2013 MBA Candidate

Neuromarketing studies the physical reactions of consumers to various stimuli, as opposed to relying solely on their responses to a survey that measures their conscious perceptions. Neuroleadership courses study a manager’s biological responses to stress, and help a manager become more aware of the impacts of stress. Neuromarketing and neuroleadership, along with other applications of neuroscience to explore or solve business problems, make up one area of emerging research that Tippie students are learning about today, and which is likely to become more widespread in the next few years. A recent Washington Post article asked “Is neuroscience the new Freakonomics?”


A core foundation of neuromarketing research is that sometimes people make decisions, but they are not sure why they made the decision. Neuroscience attempts to reach past that question in order to help us all make better decisions—or influence others to make the decision that we might want them to make.

Bill Hedgcock Professor Hedgcock examines
decision-making via brain scans.

A marketing focus group might tell you that they like the new sports car commercial that you have in final production, but do their heart rates increase when they watch the commercial? Your co-workers all tell you that they love your new website seeking donations to the local animal shelter. But when they look at it, does it incite the empathetic portion of the brain to respond "Let’s give money," or does a pattern of boredom activate in their brains "This is a snoozer?" And what would all of this even mean? Heady questions indeed. This is neuromarketing.

Professor William Hedgcock, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Iowa, is at the forefront of this emerging field. One of his research areas of interest is decision-making. Why do people sometimes make bad decisions?

Imagine a person who wants to reduce their caloric intake and “eat healthy.” The research conducted by Professor Hedgcock and others explores the inner workings of what can short-circuit that decision-making process—what some people might call a “moment of weakness.” For example, if someone is subjected to a repetitive, boring activity that requires focus and self-control, a person’s self-control can wear down over time, resulting in bad decision-making: “I’ve had a hard day. I want that deep-fried donut.” Much of the research in neuromarketing reaches further than is possible with other marketing research studies, and analyzes subconscious decision-making: “I just ate a deep-fried donut and didn’t even remember I wasn’t supposed to until it was too late.” When “wired up” to an MRI machine, different parts of the brain “light up” depending upon the root cause of the bad decision.

Examining brain scans Examining brians cans helps
Professor Hedgcock study the
decision-making process.

Hedgcock notes that in addition to the obvious marketing advantages of influencing consumers to buy your product, “there are a number of companies out there whose primary goal is to help the customer make better life decisions. Think hospitals or health insurance companies. Financial companies. Weight loss companies. There are a number of applications for the research we are doing.”

Professor Hedgcock’s work routinely involves MRI machines, electrocardiographs, eye-tracking software, skin conductivity testing and, of course, focused marketing research questions and analysis. Students at Tippie have access to this cutting edge research, both in class and independently. While neuromarketing may not be in the ordinary lexicon at every business, it is increasingly becoming more prominent at market research firms like Nielsen or Ipsos Vantis.


The Consortium Institute of Management and Business Administration (CIMBA), an MBA program led by the University of Iowa and located in the foothills of Northern Italy, is a world leader in the related study of neuroleadership - the application of neuroscience to the field of leadership. Much of what is expected from a manager in today’s economy is not just knowledge in a particular subject area, but instead a broader set of management skills that can be applied in a wide range of situations to motivate others to pursue their best work in their given area of specialization. Neuroleadership uses knowledge from neuroscience to develop better managers and leaders.

CIMBA neuro equipment CIMBA's setup for gathering biorhythm responses from students.

As explained by Roy Pettibone, Director of the Consortium for Universities for International Studies in Iowa City, and led in Italy by Professor Al Ringleb, students in the CIMBA program wear a biorhythm measurement apparatus in class. Each individual student has access to their personal biorhythm data, and the collective heart rate of the students is shown on a big screen available to all students and the instructor. By receiving constant feedback on their biorhythms while in class, students learn to be aware of their own physical responses and the potential responses of others, and learn about how emotional responses and emotional intelligence greatly impact management effectiveness.

Using neuroscience as one of its key tools, the CIMBA program explains and teaches the soft skills needed for the effective practice of management. CIMBA students learn how to translate business knowledge into an actionable activity (a decision made, a problem solved, or a problem avoided) in a way whereby they can better persuade, motivate, and assist a team.

Innovation is at the heart of Tippie’s philosophy. This tradition continues today as Tippie students have access to research in areas like neuroscience which may sound “cutting edge” today, but could very well be a commonly-employed tool at many companies a decade from now.