Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I Hear Voices

The voices say, "Build a pool. Build a pool. Build a pool." It turns out, I am not alone. Many people have voices in their heads:

Even the most rational economists, though, realize that the shopper’s mind is more complicated. The brain’s “impartial spectator,” as Adam Smith warned, has to duel with “the passions.” Last year, after surveying shoppers’ passions, behavioral economists at Carnegie Mellon University developed what they call the Tightwad-Spendthrift scale.
I'm not a lady totally given over to passions, but I do have them: Minis (yet to buy), Coke (always on hand), Mac (not enough but lots of Mac stuff), and currently, backyard landscaping and pool paraphernalia (in mid-heart-stopping-buy). My brain lights up in excitement and terror at the last potential buy. Here's what happens to a person's brain while buying:

The first was my nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain with dopamine receptors that are activated when you experience or anticipate something pleasant, like making money or drinking something tasty. In the experimental subjects at Stanford, this region was activated when they first saw pictures of things they wanted to buy. My nucleus accumbens just happened to respond more strongly than the typical subject’s, so what else could I do? If it feels good, buy it.

The other culprit — the main villain, really — was my insula. This region of the brain is activated when you smell something bad, see a disgusting picture or anticipate a painful shock. It was typically activated in the brains of the other shoppers when they saw a price that seemed too high. I’d like to think of my insula as particularly stoic, the strong, silent type, but he’s probably just an oblivious slob.

I've noted before that the vast majority of brain research is being conducted by and for big companies trying to find ways to manipulate your primal brain in financially helpful ways (to them.)

More here.

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