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NEUROBLOG 1: How the brain’s need for fuel can affect the quality of responses

Rachel CopeWhat we know about neuroscience might impact on how we design and deliver market and social research projects. My first ‘neuroblog’ considers the impact on decision making of the brain’s need for and use of glucose, and how we might use this relatively new learning when devising our research. Like any other part of our bodies, our brains need energy; in this case, in the form of glucose. In fact it’s the most fuel-hungry organ in our body. So how might that impact on the way we research?

Neurofact 1: The energy required for digestion redirects more resource towards digesting our food, and away from providing fuel for our brains.

Research implication: Stick with lighter and more easily digestible foodstuffs for focus groups and workshops! And avoid asking people to make difficult decisions after lunch or following a snack break.

Neurofact 2: The brain needs similar amounts of fuel when making important decisions as it does making trivial decisions.

Research implication: The more decisions that are made by a respondent, then the more fatigued the brain will be. As researchers we need to consider carefully the use of warm-up tasks and ensure that the most important decisions are timed appropriately during an interview or discussion. This fatiguing can also apply to the researcher! Consider food with a low ‘GI’ (Glycaemic Index) which release glucose into the blood slowly. Examples include brown cereals, wheatbran and brown bread.

Neurofact 3: The frontal lobe is particularly susceptible to falling glucose levels. This part of the brain is responsible for decision making and long term memories.

Research implication: Asking respondents to recall experiences or give their opinion at times of the day when glucose levels might be lower is not the best time to carry out research. First thing in the morning, towards the end of the day, or straight after a sugary snack (with a high GI) wouldn’t therefore be the best times for the average respondent. Mid-morning is ideal where participant diaries allow (perhaps among working participants we need to be thinking about more weekend-based discussions?).

Food for thought!

2 thoughts on “NEUROBLOG 1: How the brain’s need for fuel can affect the quality of responses

  1. Fascinating stuff Rachel – thanks! Can you extrapolate these findings to recommend optimum foods (and food break timings) for day-long meetings?

  2. Hi Trish,
    I think you could look at ensuring low-GI foods, that’s for sure. Starting over breakfast might not be a bad idea for example. The other part of your question is more difficult around timing of breaks as there are so many factors that come into play, however relatively short and intense sessions with frequent breaks are more likely to hold people’s attention and allow them to input constructively – in particular relating to afternoon or evening sessions.
    Hope that helps!
    Rachel

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