Inflated prices trigger the pleasure centers in your brain more than fair ones. Not only is the idea of buying something expensive more exciting than buying something on sale, but you’ll actually get more genuine pleasure out of something expensive — even if it’s not worth the cost. A group of social scientists at CalTech and Stanford discovered this not-entirely-unexpected fact when they stuck people into MRI brain scanners and gave them several glasses of wine, assigning each one a random price.
In point of fact, all the wines were exactly the same. But the results of the MRI scans showed greater neurological activity in people’s pleasure centers when they were told they were drinking expensive wine. The best (creepiest?) part of all this is that the authors of the study hope to use these findings to manipulate consumers. The authors write:
Our results show that increasing the price of a wine increases subjective reports of flavor pleasantness as well as blood-oxygen-level-dependent activity in medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area that is widely thought to encode for experienced pleasantness during experiential tasks. The paper provides evidence for the ability of marketing actions to modulate neural correlates of experienced pleasantness and for the mechanisms through which the effect operates.
Yes, marketing can modulate your neurological system. You already knew that, but somehow finding out that there’s an objective truth to it in a brain scanner makes it feel more like Big Brother than Brooks Brothers.