"[fMRI] allows one to gauge, for the first time, the degree to which the underlying thought processes are similar," write the researchers.
Subjects were given 450 adjectives such as "reliable," "sophisticated," and "cheerful," and scanned while indicating whether each word was applicable to themselves and someone else. The sample group was also scanned while making similar judgments about brands they know and use. The researchers discovered that even when the consumers were judging products on unmistakably human terms, they still used the part of the brain associated with inanimate objects.
"Although we may use similar vocabularies to describe people and products, we can't say that the same concepts are involved," explain the researchers. "Companies building brand images and icons should be wary of taking the legitimately useful metaphor of brand personality too literally, since it's now apparent that consumers themselves do not."
Carolyn Yoon, Angela H. Gutchess, Fred Feinberg, and Thad A. Polk. "A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Neural Dissociations between Brand and Person Judgments" Journal of Consumer Research. June 2006.