Is selling an emotion or a science

Consumer culture

Consumer behavior is predominantly controlled by the emotion systems in the human brain. Consumers can be typified. Buyers have a different emotional structure than those who refuse to buy.


For the Greek philosopher Eudoxus of Knidos (390 - 345 BC) the pursuit of pleasure (hedoné) is a central element of human existence. In the age of modern consumer society, the activity of buying seems to be particularly suitable for taking into account the pleasure principle. We now want to take a closer look at what consumption and buying mean from the point of view of the (emotional) brain and whether the "shopper" actually exists. Let's start with purchasing decisions in general.

How do purchasing decisions actually come in your head? Obviously not in the way we ourselves and consumers experience the decision-making process in our heads. More than 70 to 80 percent of decisions are made unconsciously. And: The real rulers are those areas in the brain that are mainly concerned with emotional processing; these areas of the brain are called the limbic system. [1] But what do you understand by emotion? Put simply, emotions are "relevance detectors" that let us know what is important and meaningful to us. "[2] The most important characteristics of emotions are subjective experience or feeling; changes in facial expression; physiological processes in the brain and body; valence (Reward - pleasure versus punishment - displeasure); strength of arousal (strength of the emotion); teleonomic functionality (direction and goal of the emotion).

It is important that the scientific concept of emotion is much more comprehensive than the everyday psychological one, which equates emotions experienced feelings. Because emotions can also be effective without conscious experience.

The question now arises as to which emotions or emotion systems actually exist in the brain. In many scientific works, six basic emotions are proclaimed: sadness, surprise, joy, anger, fear and disgust. [3] However, this consideration is insufficient because important emotions are missing and only emotions with facial expressions are included in this list. There are a number of emotions that take place without a special facial expression. Over several years of research, findings from brain research were combined with existing knowledge of psychology and extensive in-house investigations [4] under the name Limbic® to form an overall model of emotions. The aim was and is to formulate a model that stands on solid scientific ground, but at the same time is easy to understand and can be used universally. What exactly does the emotional operating system in the consumer brain look like? Illustration 1 (see Figure 1 of the PDF version) gives an overview.

At the center of all emotion systems are the so-called physiological vital needs such as food (including appetite / disgust), sleep and breathing. We will not deal with these needs further. In addition to these vital needs, there are three major emotional systems: the balance system (security, stability, order); the dominance system (power, autonomy, status); the stimulation system (curiosity, pleasant surprise).

In the course of evolution, additional emotion systems have developed in the brain, although these do not quite have the same meaning as the Big 3 shown. The most important are attachment (positive: feeling of security, negative: feeling of abandonment) and care (positive: love, negative: feeling of not being needed by anyone).

Sexuality plays a special role because it realizes its own biological goals and at the same time makes use of existing emotional systems. [5]