Neuro, Psych and Machine Learning - a Quick and Dirty Primer

Reading the Dictionary

The Chinwag Psych event is coming up on May 9th and there’s a whole host of interesting presentations lined up with people who are going to speak their mind about your brain and business.

The outline for the event is of course Psychology, Neuroscience and Machine Learning. But what exactly do we mean when we throw these words out and what would the connection be to business? I think the real question you might ask is - why is this relevant to me?

Here’s a quick and dirty guide to get you thinking.


A first impression of this might be an invitation to lie on a couch and tell a qualified person about your childhood. That’s psychoanalysis though and somewhat different to the way in which psychology is important for business.

Psychology broadly is the study of behaviours and mental activity. A brief search online will show you a wide spectrum of approaches. A basic question across the field could be posed as ‘Why do we do what we do?”

That question can then be applied to business in the sense that finding out why people act or think in certain ways can show you how best to engage with them, sell them things or offer solutions.

That doesn’t seem too tricky, most people have a fair sense of how things work in society. But through the scientific study of behaviour, psychologists have found interesting things that may appear to be counter intuitive. For example, the idea that all people are rational is not really the case and we can surprise even ourselves when we act out of character or find ourselves doing things we might not have presumed we would normally do.

Marketers, advertisers, designers and business people all benefit from knowing what happens in the mind of clients and how they can target, design and approach customers in ways that will persuade, convince and create environments and situations in which people want to buy items and services.

According to our speakers, many businesses are making room for people who are trained in psychology so that they can be more effective. You can find out more about this from them of course.


Brain science right? Well, yes, but essentially neuroscience is the study of the nervous system which is of course much wider than just the brain. Your nervous system (and that of other animals) is what controls the movement of the body and that’s both voluntary and involuntary activity.

When you move your arm and hand to pick up that cup of coffee, your nervous system is in charge of what you are doing, whether you think about it or not. 

This might make you think about school labs and dusty text books explaining the maps of the brain and its functions and a few maps of the body showing where the nerves are placed. Think again though, neuroscience is a hot property right now and there are multiple interesting books that explain various theories and ideas about how this all really works.

It’s an old phrase that we can explore the stars around us but have little idea of what is happening inside our own heads, but brain mapping is getting a boost. More recently President Obama in the United States kicked off funding for a brain mapping project and there is hope that the information gained from this work will help us out in the way that mapping the human genome did.

So what does this have to do with your business? Again it comes down to knowing how people work.

Creating a strong and dedicated team to work with is a good grounding for business. How your team thinks, feels and works together is equally important.

Understanding the brain and the nervous system can help us to understand ourselves and others. Finding out how memories are stored, what stimulates creative thinking and drives people to do great work are all areas that are explored through neuroscience. 

Neuroscience is certainly making headlines now and hitting a sort of fashion in books and articles. This is because we have far more to hand in the way of technology to explore and map the brain and with boosts to funding, hopefully there will be much more. 

Machine Learning

This is a part of artificial intelligence (Ai). Don’t panic, if you work online or even just use email, it’s probable that you work with Ai every day.

Machine learning is how machines learn to work with data. We’re not talking about crazed sentient robots (yet) but ways in which machines work for us and to begin with, that tends to need a human to work out what a machine should learn (what problems to solve) and how to do it. 

Your spam filter is a good example. When you file things to your spam category, your email program might learn which email addresses or content you don’t want to see and start to automatically file messages in this way.

Machine learning is by no means perfect, if you’ve had to run through your spam file to fetch out an important email, you’ll recognise this.

Email is a simple example, but the number of possible applications for machine learning is vast. Using machine learning for prediction based on large volumes of data can help to shape future decisions for a company.

It sounds complicated but while humans are better at things like pattern recognition, we’re still ahead in this game. However, machine learning can help to do the heavy lifting to reveal important patterns in data that we can then recognise and use to create change. Whether that is creating a team, learning about a target market or spotting inefficient processes, that’s up to you and your requirements.

This has been a very shallow run over the topics that will be explored at the Chinwag Psych event, something to whet your appetite. There’s plenty more to read and explore of course and we’ll have more pointers in the blog posts ahead if you (and your brain) fancy a deeper dive.

// Early Bird tickets are available at 60% off get one here.

Photo (cc) mrd00dman.