Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Inflation 'felt' to be not so bad as a wage cut

25.03.2009
Economists and brain researchers in Bonn have discovered a neuronal cause of the so-called 'money illusion'

What would you prefer: a three per cent wage rise at five per cent inflation? Or a two per cent wage-cut with stable prices?

Many people, faced with this choice, would take the first option, although the true purchasing power of their income sinks in both cases by exactly the same amount, namely two per cent. Researchers at Bonn University and thhe California Institute of Technology have now discovered the cerebro-physiological cause underlying this so-called "money illusion". This effect is of great practical relevance in that it explains, for instance, why financial policy and inflation can have a beneficial effect on employment and economic growth.

Many people view a rise in their income as a good thing, even when the increase is completely negated again by inflation. This effect is called the "money illusion", and many economists are of the opinion that it should not exist. After all, the true purchasing power of the income remains exactly the same. So, for a rational market activist it should be of absolutely no concern under these conditions whether his nominal income sinks or rises. However, laboratory experiments and field studies have repeatedly confirmed that this effect does indeed exist.

Professor Dr. Armin Falk and Dr. Bernd Weber of Bonn University have now approached this topic of the money illusion from a completely different angle. Falk is an economist and Weber a brain researcher – an unusual alliance. Both have been trying to discover which neuronal processes underlie economic decisions. For this purpose, they arranged for their test subjects to "play" economic situations while, at the same time, they monitored their brain processes.

Experiments in the Brain Scanner

A total of 24 subjects participated in the study which has just been published. Whilst recumbent in a scanner, they were called upon to solve simple problems. Success brought a financial reward. At the same time, as the experiment evolved, the fluctuations in the blood oxygen saturation of diverse areas of their brains were monitored. This reading indicates the degree of activity in the relevant area of the brain. The prize-money was not subsequently paid out in cash, but the successful test subjects were allowed to choose goods from a catalogue – including CDs, sun cream or computer accessories.

"We had now confronted our test subjects with two different situations", Falk explains. "In the first, they could only earn a relatively small amount of money, but the items in the catalogue were also comparatively cheap. In the second scenario, the wage was 50 per cent higher, but now all the items were 50 per cent more expensive. Thus, in both scenarios the participants could afford exactly the same goods with the money they had earned – the true purchasing power had remained exactly the same." The test subjects were perfectly aware of this, too – not only did they know both catalogues, but they had been explicitly informed at the start that the true value of the money they earned would always remain the same.

Despite this, an astonishing manifestation emerged: "In the low-wage scenario there was one particular area of the brain which was always significantly less active than in the high-wage scenario", declares Bernd Weber, focusing on the main result. "In this case, it was the so-called ventro-medial prefrontal cortex - the area which produces the sense of quasi elation associated with pleasurable experiences". Hence, on the one hand, the study confirmed that this money illusion really exists, and on the other, it revealed the cerebro-physiological processes involved.

An Explanation for the unpopular "Teuro"?

The results achieved by these scientists in Bonn demonstrate that as far as the brain is concerned money is represented as being "nominal", and not only "real". In other words: people like to be seduced by large numbers. This is of great practical relevance as the money illusion explains, for example, why the economy allows itself to be reflated by expansive financial policy. It also offers an explanation for why nominal wages rarely sink, whereas true wages, in contrast, fall in value in periods of inflation. Many economists also see the money illusion as an explanation for speculative bubbles, such as those in the property or shares markets. Armin Falk declares: "Even minor departures from rational behaviour, i.e. a "little money illusion" can have major economic consequences".

Bernd Weber, Antonio Rangel, Matthias Wibral, Armin Falk: The medial prefrontal cortex exhibits money illusion; PNAS 2009

Contact:
Professor Dr. Armin Falk
Institut für Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften, Universität Bonn
Telephone: 0228/73-9240
E-mail: armin.falk@uni-bonn.de
Privatdozent Dr. Bernd Weber
Life&Brain-Center, Universität Bonn
Telefon: 0228/6885-262
E-Mail: bweber@lifeandbrain.com

Dr. Bernd Weber | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uni-bonn.de
http://www.lifeandbrain.com

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>