What the brain values 'may not be what it buys'
Washington: What the brain values may not
be what it buys, says a new study.
Researchers at Duke University found that as
participants were watching a sequence of faces, their brains
were simultaneously evaluating those faces in two distinct
ways: for the quality of the viewing experience and for what
they would trade to see the face again, the `Journal of
They showed college-aged men a parade of female faces,
intermixed with images of money, while measuring brain
activation using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
In a later experiment, the same participants could pay more or
less money to view more or less attractive faces.
"One part of the frontal cortex of our participants`
brains increased in activation to more attractive faces, as if
it computed those faces` hedonic (quality of the experience)
value," said senior author Scott Huettel.
"A nearby brain region`s activation also predicted
those faces` economic value specifically, how much money
that person would be willing to trade to see another face of
similar attractiveness," he added.
During the fMRI experiment, heterosexual men viewed a
set of female faces that had previously been rated for
attractiveness by peers. Interspersed with the face pictures
were pictures of money, shown in several denominations, which
indicated real monetary gains or losses that the participant
could later spend during the next phase of the experiment.
The participants made a series of economic decisions:
Should they spend more of their money to see a more attractive
face, or spend less money but see a less attractive face? Each
participant made about one hundred of these decisions,
spending from 1 to 12 cents each time.
The researchers measured fMRI activation while the
participants viewed the faces and money. In a region near the
front of the brain, the anterior ventromedial prefrontal
cortex, there was increased activation when participants saw
a more attractive face or saw a picture of larger money.
That pattern of brain activation was relatively stable
across participants in the study. Yet, slightly farther back
in the brain, within posterior VMPFC, the researchers also
could see the relative activation to the faces compared to
money, which strongly predicted how each person would later
spend to see a more attractive face.
Huettel said that findings from neuroscience might
lead to new directions in marketing. "People often respond
to images in a very idiosyncratic fashion. While we can`t use
neuroscience to identify the best images for every person`s
brain, we could identify types of images that tend to modulate
the right sorts of value signals -- those that predict future
purchases for a market segment," he said.