Research Papers: Design Theory and Methodology

Inside the Mind: Using Neuroimaging to Understand Moral Product Preference Judgments Involving Sustainability

[+] Author and Article Information
Kosa Goucher-Lambert

Department of Mechanical Engineering,
Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
e-mail: kgoucher@andrew.cmu.edu

Jarrod Moss

Department of Psychology,
Mississippi State University,
Starkville, MS 39762
e-mail: jarrod.moss@msstate.edu

Jonathan Cagan

Department of Mechanical Engineering,
Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
e-mail: cagan@cmu.edu

1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Design Theory and Methodology Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received August 11, 2016; final manuscript received January 26, 2017; published online February 27, 2017. Assoc. Editor: Andy Dong.

J. Mech. Des 139(4), 041103 (Feb 27, 2017) (11 pages) Paper No: MD-16-1574; doi: 10.1115/1.4035859 History: Received August 11, 2016; Revised January 26, 2017

Trying to decide whether to purchase a sustainable product often puts decision makers in a difficult situation, especially if the more sustainable option provides less desirable features or costs a premium. This paper theorizes that adding sustainability as a variable during product choice evaluations create decisions that are moral choice scenarios, where benefit to society is weighed against personal gain. From an engineering design perspective, modeling user preferences in this context can be extremely difficult. While several methods exist to assist researchers in eliciting consumer preferences, the vast majority relies upon conscious input from the potential consumers themselves. More critically, these methods do not afford researchers the ability to understand the cognitive mechanisms underlying what someone may be feeling or thinking while these preference judgments are being made. In this work, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is used to investigate the neural processes behind multi-attribute product preference judgments. In particular, this work centers on uncovering unique features of sustainable preference judgments: preference judgments that involve products for which the environmental impact is a known quantity. This work builds upon earlier work that investigated how preference judgments are altered in the context of sustainability. A deeper look at participant decision making at the time of judgment is examined using neuroimaging with the goal of providing actionable insights for designers and product developers.

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Fig. 1

Experimental outline. The key contributions presented in this paper are highlighted.

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Fig. 2

EPRIME task example: Environmental condition (top) and Control condition (bottom)

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Fig. 3

fMRI trial timing outline

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Fig. 4

Behavioral analysis: mean reaction time (a) and environmental impact of chosen options (b), each with ±1 SE (N = 594 (11 participants with 54 observations per condition))

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Fig. 5

Right hemisphere neural activation from Environmental–Control contrast. See Table 2 for cluster numbering.

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Fig. 6

Left hemisphere neural activation from Environmental–Control contrast. See Table 2 for cluster numbering.

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Fig. 7

Posterior view of neural activation from Environmental–Control contrast



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