Archives for category: science
neuroeconomics car purchasing decisions

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

In this mini-series of Neuroeconomics, we look at purchasing decisions of consumers and how the activity in the brain can predict purchasing behaviour.

While some of us may think we don’t want a car, let alone car what type we’d choose, Susan Erk’s study in 2002 showed that in fact many of us can have extreme car category preference wether we know the exact brand name or not.

In the study she asked male subjects to rate different categories of cars – sportscars, limousines and small cars.

The brain activity of the Nucleus Accumbens (see below) was found to correlate directly to the car category preference; the more the brain reacted, the more they liked the ‘sportscar’, and the inverse was true for the least liked ‘small car’.

car category

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

The category of product alone was enough to strongly activate the NA part of the brain, and signal a specific purchase decision, regardless of the lack of a specific brand to consider.

This is an interesting insight into the potential powerful effects of marketing to associate values to general items and spur a purchase decision within a category alone. How much value do “luxury” brands need to carry if the category itself can carry them so far?

 

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ through the National Research University Russia. Available now as an online learning course through Coursera.com. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

 

So far we’ve gathered that the level of activity in our Nucleus Accumbens shows our predicted values.

But can this can lead to actual financial decisions? Can we predict a person’s decision to buy a product based on their brain activity?

The answer is yes.

Our brain has an expected value – what it expects us to enjoy when it gets a cue like seeing our favourite chocolate bar in the shops. (That’s the point where we think “Yum that will taste good when I eat it”.)

shopping and brain

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

And so our brain buzzes with excitement, and this activity in the Nucleus Accumbens, leading to a purchase of the chocolate bar.

Conversely, when people don’t buy it, the activity is less – as seen below. We’re just not so buzzed to pay the cash for the reward.

 

NA firing rate

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

In Brian Knutson’s study using fMRI to predict financial choices, subjects were asked to press a buzzer when they saw a cue in order to receive money.

When that monetary figure was $5, the subject’s neurons fired more, but when it was $1, it fired less. So when the person expected to get more money, the brain showed activity related to what anticipated gain they thought they would get.

knutson monetary $5 test

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ at https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

Most interesting was that the neurons firing was actually strongest before the actual outcome – i.e. in the anticipation of it.

knutson firing rate

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

So it seems we can’t quite help but buy that little black dress, great-smelling cake, refreshing cocktail or any other pleasurable experience we’ve had before.

We’re hard wired to prefer it, and act on that decision again. And again. And again.

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ through the National Research University Russia. Available now as an online learning course through Coursera.com. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

Nucleus Accumbens where we choose what we want

Our Nucleus Accumbens. Where we decide to buy that little black dress. Full credits to Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

In this mini-series of Neuroeconomics, we look at purchasing decisions of consumers and how the activity in the brain can predict purchasing behaviour.

So it turns out we’re all a little bit hard-wired for rewards.

We love a little bit of  pleasure.

Our Nucleus Accumbens, located in the ventral striatum, does loads to help us choose what we want, when we want it.

It’s conveniently connected to the hippocampus (memory), frontal cortex (higher order decision making), amygdala (motivation and encodes potential costs of our decisions) and VTA which produces the all-important pleasure seeking chemical, dopamine.

So in short the Nucleus Accumbens (NA) is a hefty emotional calculator with access to good data to calculate values for our decisions.

What a perfect region to make some purchasing decisions!

Yes I love that car. But is it too expensive for my budget this month? And will it in my garage?

So how do we know there even is a relationship between our brain’s activity and us choosing pleasurable rewards?

Wolfram Shultz’s study in 2006 showed that the more the animal got their reward, the more the dopamine neurons in the NA fired. However, after a while they stopped firing when the reward was presented, and started to fire in anticipation of the reward. So it was expecting the reward.

expected

Full credits to Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

So our brain learns.

Show us a cue for the reward – like the smell of a cake baking – and the brain releases our dopamine in pleasure-driving mode.

The cake needn’t be eaten yet, but the cue kicks us off.

What does this mean for addiction?

Exactly the same thing.

Self-administered drugs  (e.g. cocaine, amphetamine) have been proven to hijack the dopamine system in animals and directly evoke a pleasant reaction by manipulating the pleasure system to mirror these expectant brain patterns.

So in short, our NA dopamine neurons will fire more when the person values something they know, even if they haven’t tasted it yet.

 

dopamine cocaine study

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ at https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ through the National Research University Russia. Available now as an online learning course through Coursera.com. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

 

neuroeconomics series part 1

Neuroeconomics series part 1. Thanks to http://www.mybrainsolutions.com/ for the great image

In this LGM mini-series of Neuroeconomics, we look at purchasing decisions of consumers and how the activity in the brain can predict purchasing behaviour.

For those of you scratching your heads at home, what is Neuroeconomics?

It’s a ground-breaking new area of research that’s got psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists putting their heads together to try and understand the neurobiological mechanisms for decision making.

Luckily, everybody’s decision making process involves the same various stages: interpreting choice, evaluating choice, making a choice, and evaluating the results of that choice, all the while learning from that process.

If you don’t like the brand of cola you chose that last time, you will remember not to choose it again.

But if you did like it, what happens when your brain has to choose the next time around?

Well it seems your brain will encode a value to that cola, and that encoding will predict your decision next time you’re standing in front of the fridge (cool!).

decision making neuroscience

Full credit to Vasily Klucharev at the National Research University Russia. For more information head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

The problem is, values are completely subjective. Someone who values diet might choose cola by the amount of calories it has. Someone who is on a budget will choose the cheapest. Someone aware of their image might choose the ‘cooler’ brand. It all depends on your values.

So Neuroeconomics has its own measure of values called Neuroeconomics utility  – which measures the physical firing rate of neurons in your brain.

And this firing rate has a direct relationship to how hard you will work for rewards. The more you value something (like pleasure) the more your brain fires, the more you will choose to work for it. Make sense huh? But it can get a bit extreme.

dopamine rat study

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

Olds’ study from 1958 showed how rats worked furiously to stimulate the pleasure centers of their brain, increasing the firing rates of these neurons. In fact it got so high, they died from the fun. Yep, collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Similar patterns have been shown in humans where patients ignore their own personal hygiene and family commitments just to stimulate their own pleasure centers. Ew. (Portenoy et al., 1986).

So what is this pleasure center? Well it’s called the Nucleus Accumbens. And it’s full of that yes-I’ll-have-another-glass-of-wine-thankyou-and-okay-another-slice-of-cake, pleasure-seeking milk, dopamine.

But more on that to come in part 2.

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ through the National Research University Russia. Available now as an online learning course through Coursera.com. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

the rescuing hug

‘The Rescuing Hug’ – This picture is of two week old twins who were in separate incubators, and one was not expected to live. A hospital nurse fought agast the hospital rules and placed the babies together in one incubator. The healthier of the two threw her arm over her sister in an endearing embrace. The smaller baby’s heart rate stabilised and her temperature rose to normal.

As someone whose nickname was ‘squeeze’ when I was a little girl, I can attest to loving a hug.

But recently, hugs have started to reveal their health effects.

Studies have shown that hugging has been shown to release oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the love hormone”, in particularly high quantities following positive social interactions (like hugging). Oxytocin is key to boosting trust, sociability, and triggering maternal instincts while lessening anxiety and social fear.

However in 2010, hugging got an upgrade to a healing activity.

A study among couples found that increases in oxytocin following hugs correlated with faster wound healing. The hypothesis was that oxytocin reduces inflammation, thus allowing the wound to heal more quickly.

The study also showed that people who said they felt more social and spousal support and had more hugs and massages had higher oxytocin levels than those who reported less support and physical intimacy.

For man’s best friend, patting your pet also boost oxytocin (for canine and man alike!), and emailing loved ones has the same effect.

Providing doses of oxytocin has also been shown to result in more positive than negative behaviours during disagreements with your partner, confirming prior evidence that oxytocin  affects couples’ positive and negative communication behaviours. Read more on the study here. It also can improve communication skills for autistic children if provided in doses.

So what are you waiting for?

Do as Hunter and Collectors say.

Go find a squeeze.

Hugs are the universal medicine. 

~Author Unknown

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It came as quite a shock to many to hear of Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to call back its thousands of remote workers to the slave yards (albeit very nice slave yards, no doubt) for the 9-to-5 grind.

Many at first glance (myself included) thought it sounded a death knell for the modern, flexible workplace: if industry trendsetters like Yahoo! aren’t into it, my employer just got grounds to haul my ass back into the fluorescent lighted, open-plan, modern factory for over 40 hours of my working week.

The giddy enlightenment that many modern employers were beginning to realise – that the happiness, and longevity of their employees at their companies is inextricably linked to their work-life balance, ability to see their families, and prioritise other important things like their health, (not to mention the key element of inherent trust it implies between colleagues) – seemed smacked in the face by such a decision.

And when Google piped-up to back Mayer’s call, it really felt like a backflip into old-school, big business rules, where dollars rule people, and your people come second.

But, while it might seem a shame these industry giants are opening these familiar doors once again, the reason could well be valid.

Huge, bloated, and with unhealthy vital signs, Yahoo! is like an overweight person at risk of a business cardiac – it needs to trim the fat, stat.

And the cause of the disease appears be one that is ages old, and that is a diagnosis of ‘social loafing’.

Social loafing was a term crowned by social psychologist Max Ringelmann in 1913 when he noticed that a group working together collectively produced less. The reason for this was not only poor coordination, but crucially a lack of motivation.

Later tests further showed that people will ‘social loaf’ if the goal is meaningless to them, and if individual input is not identifiable as part of the whole.

(Those of you who are measured by both group and individual performance in your workplace may now see why).

Other interesting outcomes showed;

– The magnitude of social loafing is reduced for women and for individuals originating from Eastern cultures.
– Individuals are more likely to loaf when their co-workers are expected to perform well.
– Individuals reduce social loafing when working with acquaintances and do not loaf at all when they work in highly valued groups.

So if all the above is true, how we end up on this road to remote working?

The theory goes that when we find work difficult, others presence is distracting, making work harder still (hello open plan offices!). But where our work is easy and fairly boring, having others present acts as a drive, forcing ourselves to compete (even if working independently). When two people work on the same goal this is even more pronounced: most animals will eat, run, and even procreate at an accelerated rate of productivity in the presence of other. Insert gym buddy here.

Perhaps initially the work at Yahoo! was challenging enough to allow workers this much space to roam. And then things got too easy…

Hopefully for Mayer, the effects of drive theory from the company’s new workspace will kick in soon.

Hopefully for us, the flow-on effects of this flexi recall don’t tip the delicate gains in flexible working for us mere mortals not located in Silicon Valley.

Drive and motivation for many people can also reside in the hope that we won’t have to spend ever day of the average 13000 working days in our lives chained to a desk.

Sickie, anyone?

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Flipper is a smart fish.

Not only can he do my favourite trick of warding off sharks, but he also uses his sleep time with an effectiveness most new parents can only dream of.

When sleeping, dolphins can’t afford the luxury of physically stopping for a kip. Instead they need to keep swimming, and crucially breathing, to stay alive.

So how do they sleep?

Scientists have found that they actually manage to switch off half their brain, so that the active part can control swimming and breathing, while the rest rests.

Better than that, they team up in pairs to sleep, switching off the respective inner hemispheres (halves) of their brains, so that the outer halves are alert for predators, attack, Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan etc.

Talk about teamwork.

Check out this highly educational video offering rare insight into dolphins and their brains at work.

Note, if you do not find this funny, we prescribe that you need more sleep.

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