What Brain Scans Tell Us About Website Trust Signals

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Scott Baradell
Published: Oct 29, 2021

Marketers have begun to explore the use of neuroimaging—functional MRI brain scans—in determining what trust signals have the biggest impact on specific audiences.

In 2019, academics Luis-Alberto Casado-Aranda. Angelika Dimoka and Juan Sánchez-Fernández published a study in the Journal of Interactive Marketing in which they used neuroimaging to compare the reaction of online shoppers to website trust signals.

The researchers tested three types of signals: 

  1. Trust seals,
  2. Star ratings based on customer feedback, and
  3. Vendor “assurance statements.”

The study, conducted at the University of Granada in Spain, monitored 29 shoppers in the purchase process for a book. They were shown the Confianza Online security trust seal; a ratings table featuring five-star and near five-star ratings for the bookseller; and statements by the bookseller providing assurances on shipping, privacy and security.

Trust Seals Over Star Ratings

The research showed that shoppers trusted the trust seals most and the star ratings least, with assurance statements somewhere in the middle. The report stated that “third-party certificates are far more trustworthy than rating systems given the activation in previously hypothesized ventral striatum and septal areas.”

Translation: the Confianza Online seal activated parts of the brain showing trust, while the star ratings activated parts of the brain revealing feelings of ambiguity and risk. 

Previous neuroimaging research has tested the impact of variables like pricing and website usability on shopper trust.

As the cost of neuroimaging has come down in recent years, studies of this kind represent a feasible way for marketers to compare a specific audience’s reactions to different potential trust signals—and to get more accurate results than a survey might yield.

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