- Published: September 26, 2012
- Written by Robert T. Brockman II
The human central nervous system did not develop in a vacuum. Like the rest of the human body, the mind and brain have evolved in response to environmental selection pressures which has shaped their functioning. Under many circumstances, these selection pressures have favored reacting quickly to stimuli rather than performing a full logical assessment of a situation. These unconscious heuristic responses govern much of our behavior, ranging from simple spinal motor reflex responses to heat or pain all the way up to the complex split-second decisions in professional sports. 
These unconscious algorithms allow the mind to quickly deal with problems quickly that could never be solved analytically. Unfortunately, this speed comes with a cost: the heuristics will respond unpredictably and incorrectly when applied outside the set of conditions in which they have been trained and/or evolved.  Advances in neuroscience and psychology are continually revealing weaknesses and limitations in our perception and decision making.
The existence of these weaknesses, essentially "mental security vulnerabilities," creates opportunities for marketers to intentionally influence our decision making in ways that our conscious minds are unaware of. For example, branding consulting company Millward Brown has begun actively using neuroscience tools, such as eye tracking studies  and fMRI  to test advertisements so as to increase their effectiveness.
We can expect such outside efforts to bypass our conscious mind for sales purposes to become more common and more effective as more discoveries in neuroscience are made. Many of these efforts will be "legal" under the current regime and quite profitable. I propose that as a society we need to evaluate the extent to which these manipulations should be allowed and adjust the legal and regulatory framework accordingly. The discovery of mental weaknesses has also created an opportunity for businesses to be created which specialize in defending people against such externally engineered "foolishness."
Sources and Notes
 Chapter 1 of "How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer discusses how quarterbacks in the NFL make complex decisions under extreme time pressure.
 Dr. Eagleman's book "Incognito" (class reading) has a plethora of examples of these perceptual and cognitive illusions.