Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The influence of the irrelevant

07.04.2008
Researchers show stimuli unrelated to a decision can still influence the choice we make

Attractive women plus cool cars equal brisk sales for auto dealers as men snap up those cars, prompted—or so advertising theory goes—by the association. But is the human male really so easily swayed? Can the irrelevant image of an alluring female posing by the merchandise actually encourage a heterosexual man to purchase it?

Possibly, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

The study showed that when heterosexual men are exposed to positive emotional stimuli—in this case, erotic photos of a man and woman—an area of the brain associated with anticipation of reward is stimulated. In the immediate aftermath of that stimulation, men are consistently more likely to take bigger financial risks than they otherwise would, said Brian Knutson, assistant professor of psychology.

"This is the first study to demonstrate that emotional stimuli can influence financial risk-taking," said Knutson, lead author of a paper describing the research in the current issue of NeuroReport. The hard evidence was gathered by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of participants' brains as they viewed photographs of positive, negative or neutral subjects and then had to quickly make a decision to choose one of two levels of financial risk in a required gamble.

Knutson and collaborator Camelia Kuhnen (who received her PhD from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2006 and is now assistant professor of finance at Northwestern University) had already shown in a 2005 study using fMRI that brain activity could be used to predict whether people were about to take a financial risk. When they were, an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens showed increased activation. When they were about to choose to avoid the risk, a different area called the insula showed increased activation.

"We knew that we should be looking at [the nucleus accumbens] from the previous study. But what we didn't know is whether we could somehow control the activation in that area by presenting some completely irrelevant stimulus," Knutson said. "And whether that would change activation in that area and actually change behavior."

Knutson and his colleagues studied heterosexual male undergraduate college students. The images the men viewed were intended to stimulate an emotional response. Erotic images were used to elicit a positive response, snakes and spiders to prompt a negative response, and office supplies to trigger a neutral response.

In case any of the subjects found office supplies more repellent than snakes and spiders, the researchers had the men rate each image after the scans. They then derived personalized ratings from each of the participants, which were used to make sure that whatever brain activation they observed was properly correlated with the actual emotional response of the viewer.

After viewing each image, the participants immediately had to decide whether to take the high-risk option of gambling a dollar or the low-risk option of gambling a dime. Regardless of their choice, they had a 50-50 chance of winning or losing. Knutson and his colleagues gave each man $10 to gamble with prior to entering the MRI scanner. "We wanted them to care," Knutson said. Depending on the men's gambles and the random outcomes, they won or lost. "We took that money back if they lost it," he said.

"What we saw is that when they viewed the erotic pictures, the activation in their nucleus accumbens increased compared to the other stimuli, and also that they had increased activation in that region before choosing the high-risk gamble," Knutson said.

The researchers then applied a statistical analysis to determine whether the activation in the nucleus accumbens accounted for some of the behavioral effect. "The answer was yes, at least in the case of the positive stimuli," Knutson said. "After people had seen those erotic pictures, they tended to pick the high-risk gamble more often, especially if they had been picking the low-risk gamble before.

"The interesting finding from an economic standpoint is that these completely irrelevant stimuli, these pictures that have nothing to do with the gambles or the history of outcomes that people have experienced with these gambles, still influence behavior," he said. "They seem to do so at least partially by influencing activation of these brain regions."

The findings have implications for what might make emotional appeals effective or ineffective in applications ranging from advertising to finance to politics and, perhaps not surprisingly, gambling.

"If you go to the casinos, people are wearing skimpy costumes, they're giving you free alcohol, there are bells and lights and things like that, which don't necessarily seem related to the odds of the gambling," Knutson said. "But these are cues that might activate brain regions that encourage risk-taking and therefore get people to gamble more."

So does draping a seductive woman over the hood of a car in an advertisement really help sell that car?

"Well, yes and no," Knutson said. "It may work sometimes under some conditions."

"Our trials are happening relatively fast, changing on a second-to-second basis," he noted. "We're forcing people to immediately make a decision, and the emotional stimuli appear in close temporal proximity to the decision itself.

"If you have these kinds of appeals, you'd better make it easy for people to make an immediate decision. You should put them under time pressure," he said.

Knutson emphasized that there is still ample work to be done in deciphering the effects of emotional stimuli on behavior. He plans to study women's responses in the future, as well as to examine other types of emotional stimuli. He also intends to examine the influence of time, to see how transient or lasting the influences of various emotional stimuli might prove to be.

"This is just a first step," he said. "It's an existence proof that some irrelevant emotional stimuli can influence some immediate financial decisions and that we can track down one brain basis for this influence."

In addition to Knutson and Kuhnen, the co-authors of the NeuroReport paper are G. Elliott Wimmer, formerly of Stanford University, and Piotr Winkielman of the University of California-San Diego.

Louis Bergeron | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stanford.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

nachricht Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology

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: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>