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A Shopping-Scanner Darkly

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the instant-feedback-marketing dept.

Science 107

An anonymous reader writes "Using functional MRI scans, researchers have found which parts of the brain are active when people consider buying something and can predict whether or not they'll ultimately bite. One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash."

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107 comments

Yeah... (1)

robzon (981455) | more than 7 years ago | (#17448964)

neuromarketing anybody?

Pat Robertson-Scanner Darkly: +1, Patriotic (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17449222)


Would someone please stick a sock in this Imam's [patrobertson.com] mouth?

Thanks in advance,
Kilgore Trout, Patriot

My topic is nothing new. However, since no one else has found it fit to address directly, I will address it here. It is worth noting at the outset that when Pat Robertson was first found trying to direct social activity toward philanthropic flimflam rather than toward the elimination of the basic deficiencies in the organization of our economic and cultural life, I was scared. I was scared not only for my personal safety; I was scared for the people I love. And now that Robertson is planning to commit confrontational, in-your-face acts of violence, intimidation, and incivility, I'm indubitably terrified. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it true that he owns drawers and boxes full of legal documents, which he is convinced prove his position? Stripping from the term "counterexpostulation" the negative connotations it evokes, I will try to solve the problems of phallocentrism, deconstructionism, economic inequality, and lack of equal opportunity. Robertson is trying hard to convince a substantial number of self-centered gasbags to cause this country to flounder on the shoals of self-interest, corruption, and chaos. He presumably believes that the "hundredth-monkey phenomenon" will spontaneously incite distasteful carpetbaggers to behave likewise. The reality, however, is that if Robertson doesn't realize that it's generally considered bad style to mold the mind of virtually every citizen -- young or old, rich or poor, simple or sophisticated -- then he should read one of the many self-help books on the subject. I recommend he buy one with big print and lots of pictures. Maybe then, Robertson will grasp the concept that he claims that if he kicks us in the teeth, we'll then lick his toes and beg for another kick. I would say that that claim is 70% folderol, 20% twaddle, and 10% another homophobic attempt to force us to do things or take stands against our will. Robertson's argument that without his superior guidance, we will go nowhere is hopelessly flawed and totally circuitous. If Robertson were to use more accessible language, then a larger number of people would be able to understand what he's saying. The downside for Robertson, of course, is that a larger number of people would also understand that small minds are little troubled by this. Excuse me; that's not entirely correct. What I meant to say is that frightful four-flushers like Robertson often think they have the right to cure the evil of discrimination with more discrimination. Am I aware of how Robertson will react when he reads that last sentence? Yes. Do I care? No, because I have a dream, a mission, a set path that I would like to travel down. Specifically, my goal is to identify, challenge, defy, disrupt, and, finally, destroy the institutions that pursue an oligophrenic agenda under the guise of false concern for the environment, poverty, civil rights, or whatever. Of course, time cannot change his behavior. Time merely enlarges the field in which Robertson can, with ever-increasing intensity and thoroughness, trick us into trading freedom for serfdom.

The simple, regrettable truth is that Robertson's values represent a backward step of hundreds of years, a backward step into a chasm with no bottom save the endless darkness of death. Dysfunctional oligarchs demand the advantages other people have earned without the disadvantages, like having to earn them. Yet there is one crucial fact that we must not overlook if we are to perceive our current situation as it is, rather than in the anamorphosis of some "ideology" such as simplism or mandarinism. Specifically, just the other day, some of Robertson's ultra-maledicent mercenaries forced a prospectus into my hands as I walked past. The prospectus described Robertson's blueprint for a world in which the most pharisaical big-mouths you'll ever see are free to sensationalize all of the issues. As I dropped the prospectus onto an overflowing wastebasket, I reflected upon the way that Robertson is doing everything in his power to make me feel disconnected from reality. The only reason I haven't yet is that I believe in the four P's: patience, prayer, positive thinking, and perseverance.

As everyone knows, we all have a moral obligation to stand up together and forcefully oppose Robertson's oleaginous communications. What you might not know, however, is that if you think that it's perfectly safe to drink and drive, then think again. Robertson's publications are a house of mirrors. How are we to find the opening that leads to freedom? This isn't such an easy question to answer, but let me take a stab at it: You shouldn't let yourself be flummoxed by Robertson's fast talk and air of self-confidence. In reaching that conclusion, I have made the usual assumption that I have frequently criticized his unspoken plan to lead us, lemminglike, over the precipice of self-destruction. He usually addresses my criticisms by accusing me of adversarialism, gnosticism, child molestation, and halitosis. Robertson hopes that by delegitimizing me this way, no one will listen to me when I say that the point is that if everyone spent just five minutes a day thinking about ways to treat the disease, not the symptoms, we'd all be a lot better off. Is five minutes a day too much to ask for the promise of a better tomorrow? I sure hope not, but then again, when Robertson says that a book of his writings would be a good addition to the Bible, in his mind, that's supposed to end the argument. It's like he believes he has said something very profound.

But I digress. You may have noticed that Robertson has no conscience and therefore no feelings of guilt for wanting to make conditions far worse than could ever have been the case without his sleazy efforts. But you don't know the half of it. For starters, it's easy to tell if Robertson's lying. If his lips are moving, he's lying. Although this has been overlooked or ignored by the established scientific community, he accuses me of being cruel whenever I state that even those few who benefit from his words fail to recognize their current manifestation as an uncompromising form of isolationism. Alright, I'll admit that I have a sharp tongue and sometimes write with a bit of a poison pen but the fact remains that if the human race is to survive on this planet, we will have to raise issues, as opposed to guns or knives. I might be able to forgive Robertson, but only if he promises never again to regulate obstructionism. There are some truths that are so obvious that for this very reason they are not seen, or at least not recognized, by ordinary people. One noteworthy example is the truism that people often get the impression that wild vulgarians and Robertson's operatives are separate entities. Not so. When one catches cold, the other sneezes. As proof, note that Robertson wants to subvert time-tested societal norms. Who does he think he is? I mean, if you read his writings while mentally out of focus, you may get the sense that he has mystical powers of divination and prophecy. But if you read Robertson's writings while mentally in focus and weigh each point carefully, it's clear that if you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem.

It is quite common today to hear people express themselves as follows: "What I take much more seriously than materialistic lamebrains are cantankerous lugs." Robertson's sophistries have caused widespread social alienation, and from this alienation a thousand social pathologies have sprung. Those of us who are still sane, those of us who still have a firm grip on reality, those of us who still assert that Robertson's sense of humor runs the gamut from rude and crude to stinking and evil, have an obligation to do more than just observe what Robertson is doing from a safe distance. We have an obligation to issue a call to conscience and reason. We have an obligation to focus on the major economic, social, and political forces that provide the setting for the expression of a repugnant agenda. And we have an obligation to illustrate the virtues that he lacks -- courage, truthfulness, courtesy, honesty, diligence, chivalry, loyalty, and industry.

I'm sorry if I've gotten a little off track here, but Robertson's propaganda machine grinds on and on. Why do I tell you this? Because these days, no one else has the guts to. If Robertson were paying attention -- which it would seem he is not, as I've already gone over this -- he'd see that he must sense his own irremediable inferiority. That's why Robertson is so desperate to destabilize the already volatile social fabric that he purportedly aims to save; it's the only way for him to distinguish himself from the herd. It would be a lot nicer, however, if Robertson also realized that if everyone does his own, small part, together we can strip the unjust power from those who seek power over others and over nature. Robertson parrots whatever ideas are fashionable at the moment. When the fashions change, his ideas will change instantly, like a weathercock.

The following is a preliminary attempt to establish some criteria for discussion of these complex issues. To begin with, if we can understand what has caused the current plague of superficial monomaniacs, I believe that we can then deal with Robertson appropriately. If I have a bias, it is only against brutal, callow moochers who create some jealous, pseudo-psychological profile of me to discredit my opinions. Please don't misinterpret that last statement to mean that post-structuralism is a be-all, end-all system that should be forcefully imposed upon us. That's not at all what it means. Rather, it means that Robertson's protests are based on biased statistics and faulty logic, which, in turn, invalidate the conclusions he draws from them. No joke.

What do you think of this: Ignoring this letter can be considered an admission of guilt on Robertson's part? I am not embarrassed to admit that I have neither the training, the experience, the license, nor the clinical setting necessary to properly remind Robertson about the concept of truth in advertising. Nevertheless, I unquestionably do have the will to suggest the kind of politics and policies that are needed to restore good sense to this important debate while remaining true to those beliefs, ideals, and aspirations we hold most dear. That's why I honestly claim that idle hands are the devil's tools. That's why Robertson spends his leisure time devising ever more unpleasant ways to demand special treatment that, in many cases, borders on the ridiculous. Since this is one of those "don't say I didn't warn you" letters, I want also to note that he says that this is the best of all possible worlds and that he is the best of all possible people. Yet he also wants to yield this country to the forces of darkness, oppression, and tyranny. Am I the only one who sees the irony there? I ask because I find that some of his choices of words in his memoranda would not have been mine. For example, I would have substituted "besotted" for "ultracentrifugation" and "tyrannical" for "photochronographical." Robertson's wheelings and dealings are not only bad for the immortal soul, but for mortal men and women. Now that's a rather crude and simplistic statement and, in many cases, it may not even be literally true. But there is a sense in which it is generally true, a sense in which it doubtlessly expresses how if Robertson truly wanted to be helpful, he wouldn't challenge all I stand for.

We must take off the kid gloves and vent some real anger at Robertson. Those who claim otherwise do so only to justify their own venom-spouting holier-than-thou attitudes. There are some basic biological realities of the world in which we live. These realities are doubtless regrettable, but they are unalterable. If Robertson finds them intolerable and unthinkable, the only thing that I can suggest is that he try to flag down a flying saucer and take passage for some other solar system, possibly one in which the residents are oblivious to the fact that if we let Robertson bamboozle people into believing that skin color means more than skill and gender is more impressive than genius, then greed, corruption, and heathenism will characterize the government. Oppressive measures will be directed against citizens. And lies and deceit will be the stock-in-trade of the media and educational institutions. You're probably thinking, "Robertson is incapable of handling an adult emotion or a universal concept without first reducing it to something pernicious, obtuse, impertinent, and probably stolid." Well, you're right. But something else you should know is that there is a proper place in life for hatred. Hatred of that which is wrong is a powerful and valuable tool. But when Robertson perverts hatred in order to turn our country into a presumptuous, lousy cesspool overrun with scum, disease, and crime, it becomes clear that I'm sticking out my neck a bit in talking about his memoirs. It's quite likely he will try to retaliate against me for my telling you that my general thesis is that his goal is to mete out harsh and arbitrary punishment against his adversaries until they're intimidated into a benumbed, neutralized, impotent, and non-functioning mass. How repressive is that? How unsavory? How covinous? I'll talk a lot more about that later, but first let me finish my general thesis: His rank-and-file followers are quick to point out that because he is hated, persecuted, and repeatedly laughed at, Robertson is the real victim here. The truth is that, if anything, Robertson is a victim of his own success -- a success that enables Robertson to wiretap all of our telephones and computers.

Though grotesque jingoism is not discussed in this letter, much of what I've written applies to that, as well. Did it ever occur to Robertson that juxtaposed to this is the idea that by reveling in grammatically incorrect English, he slaughters our idiom and impoverishes our dialog? My answer is, as always, a model of clarity and the soul of wit: I don't know. However, I do know that he periodically puts up a facade of reform. However, underneath the pretty surface, it's always business as usual. You are, I'm sure, well aware that his insanity has reached record levels. But did you know that he thumbs his nose at some of the very things I, speaking as someone who is not an ornery politico, treasure? Now, it is not my purpose to suggest that I am tired of listening to his polyloquent bilge, but rather to get him off our backs. Robertson claims that anyone who disagrees with him is ultimately silly. I, however, think that that's a load of crud. Yes, he has gone way too far with his no-compromise attitude, but "Robertson" has now become part of my vocabulary. Whenever I see someone lead people towards iniquity and sin, I tell him or her to stop "Robertson-ing". I close this letter along the same lines it opened on: Pat Robertson has let his dictatorial nature get the better of him.

Can we try for three PKD puns in a row? (2, Funny)

gmezero (4448) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449570)

Can we? Can we?

Yeah, but (3, Funny)

jhines (82154) | more than 7 years ago | (#17448974)

It is really going to be hard to fit the MRI machine in the line at the supermarket.

Re:Yeah, but (1)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449432)

What for ?

Seriously, all this manages to do is determine whether the person is about to buy or not. In other words, it replicates the functionality of the shop itself.

Re:Yeah, but (4, Interesting)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450168)

Advertisers and retail consultants of all sorts have a tremendous hunger for information. Anything they can measure might give them an advantage over their competition and the lengths they will go to are determined only by the competitiveness of the market they are in.

I do a fair amount of product photography. I sometimes sit in meetings where advertising and marketing people will go over my photos to pick the ones they want to use. The bulk of what they base their decisions on is how a particular shot makes them 'feel'. That and a whole host of boring antocedotes about how many seconds X type of person will spend making a buying decision about Y product and what factors will weight most heavily in determining the purchase. Some of the things they claim to know amaze me, that anyone would bother to study them.

What I've learned from all this is that every single aspect of any large chain store you visit will be the way it is because of some study (and sometimes by some vendor paying for a better position for their product). The color of the walls, the floor, the lighting. The way items are arranged on the shelf. The position of the packages. Their height above the floor. The quantity of each item and the selection within a category. The graphics on the package. The music playing overhead. The uniforms on the employees. The presence or absence of employees in a particular area. The relative position of competing products, of complementary products. The arrangement of departments throughout the store. The ease of ingress or egress in the parking lot. The lighting in the parking lot. The type of front doors. Signage. Leaflets. Whizzing spinning blinking lights to alert you the something wonderful is about to happen, some item will be deeply discounted.

Absolutely everything about every visit to every national level retailer will have been picked over in meetings both by the marketing department of the store you are in and by the marketing department of the product in that store.

Profit? (3, Funny)

Aqua_boy17 (962670) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450104)

Not only that, you're going to zap every credit and debit card within an appreciable radius and I'm thinking you'll know pretty quickly if the guy in line next to you has a pacemaker or any other metallic implants.

OTOH, a lot of jewelry and loose change is going to fly to the center of the machine when you fire it up in the checkout line, so that may offset your costs somewhat.

Re:Yeah, but (2, Interesting)

venicebeach (702856) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450154)

That's why you have to bring the supermarket into the MRI.

What's cool about this study is that people were making decisions to buy with real money. They actually received the products they chose, for a price. fMRI studies, like much of cognitive science, often gravitates towards abstracted situations so that they can be tightly controlled. What's exciting is that now we are moving more towards scanning real-life situations.

Orwell was right... sort of (1)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17448978)

rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash.

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human's wallet -- forever."

Re:Orwell was right... sort of (2, Interesting)

Inverted Intellect (950622) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451026)

If stores want a better hold of a customer's wallet, shouldn't they perhaps focus a little less on the actual putting of items in baskets, and suchlike, and a little more focus on the actual forking over of cash?

If they manage to somehow make that experience easier for customers, perhaps they will find themselves more inclined to fork cash over to their stores rather than their rival's.

Home Depot (3, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17452106)

shouldn't they perhaps focus a little less on the actual putting of items in baskets, and suchlike, and a little more focus on the actual forking over of cash?

Yeah, Home Depot's got that one nailed with their "self-checkout" debacle. They make you focus on the forking-over-of-cash so hard that it makes you want to leave your pile of crap at the register and go shop somewhere else.

Re:Orwell was right... sort of (1)

Karthikkito (970850) | more than 7 years ago | (#17452418)

RFID credit cards (the ones you see advertised on tv with the marathon runner stoppping for a drink) seem to fill this need. You just touch your plastic card to the machine -- not even signing (less feeling of commitment!!) -- and go. Not only have you placed the payment on a card that you will only pay off at a later date (thus delaying the pain of payment), the physical action of payment doesn't really give time to reflect either.

PKD FTW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17448996)

We're loving the PKD reference titles today.

Re:PKD FTW? (2, Funny)

Teresita (982888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449100)

We're loving the PKD reference titles today.

We Can Remember Them For You Wholesale, as a matter of fact.

Re:PKD FTW? (1)

JasonKChapman (842766) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449150)

Sweet, huh? It's almost like they can remember it for us--for free!

In other words.... (4, Insightful)

StressGuy (472374) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449022)

From the Article:

"One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash."

So, in short, they are considering if the item is worth the asking price? That actually sounds a lot like a rational thought process to me.

Re:In other words.... (1)

calderra (1034658) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449542)

I think the psychological / sociological importance of that finding is bigger than the immediate economic concern... for example, when someone robs the Quik-E-Mart, is he weighing only the amount of cash in the register versus the number of bullets in his gun? Is he basically not considering the long-term affects at all? If this case applies more broadly, it could imply a need to turn a lot of modern psychology upside-down. Telling people to think before they act (and weigh the future consequences of action) might be something we're literally not hardwired for.

Re:In other words.... (1)

vokyvsd (979677) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449614)

No, they're showing that shoppers are considering the loss of money - the thing they have in their hand - rather than the loss of purchasing power - something that really exists only in the abstract.

I seem to remember several months/years ago someone linked this to humanity's ancient roots as hunter-gatherers - when we were out scrounging up food, we had to think quickly and decisively and make immediate choices based only on what data were directly in front of us. Today, shopping presents enough of the right stimuli to re-activate this portion of the brain that circumnavigates costly (processing-time-wise) long-term thinking and instead makes quick, short-sighted decisions. Hence impulse buying from otherwise rational people. Does anyone remember this article? Or am I just making it up?

Re:In other words.... (2, Insightful)

WhyDoYouWantToKnow (1039964) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450136)

I seem to remember several months/years ago someone linked this to humanity's ancient roots as hunter-gatherers - when we were out scrounging up food, we had to think quickly and decisively and make immediate choices based only on what data were directly in front of us. Today, shopping presents enough of the right stimuli to re-activate this portion of the brain that circumnavigates costly (processing-time-wise) long-term thinking and instead makes quick, short-sighted decisions. Hence impulse buying from otherwise rational people. Does anyone remember this article? Or am I just making it up?

Are you telling me that my desire to walk into the local electronics superstore and purchase one of those flat, wide-screen TV's with the really cool mirrors is actually based on an evolutionary, instinctual if you will, response passed along through the genetic roots received from my ancestors developed during their hunter-gatherer days and not based on the commercials that have been airing with the kid out in the middle of the field with the rainbow coming out of her hand?

Re:In other words.... (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451408)

"Are you telling me that my desire to walk into the local electronics superstore and purchase one of those flat, wide-screen TV's with the really cool mirrors is actually based on an evolutionary, instinctual if you will, response passed along through the genetic roots received from my ancestors developed during their hunter-gatherer days and not based on the commercials that have been airing with the kid out in the middle of the field with the rainbow coming out of her hand?"

There may well be an evolutionary or instinctual mechanism for adults to make kids happy, particularly kids geneticly related to us, AND one to enjoy seeing happy healthy kids around as a confirmation our immediate tribe is doing well. There's probably also a mechanism to drive us to seek empowerment, so something that the commercials imply gives us a 'magic' power like projecting rainbows can help bypass consious, rational decision making.
      In fact, completely fictitious power symbolism may work better than realistic symbolism on many people, because the part of your brain that doesn't care if magic is real or not becomes involved, and helps supress the more realistic recognition that the item isn't really going to empower us either. We've (speaking for an entire consumer demographic group) become skeptical of claims that owning a new X will let us get ahead in real life, but since we don't take "It'll give ya magic powers!" seriously anyway, the skepticism filters never get a chance to kick in.

Re:In other words.... (1)

WhyDoYouWantToKnow (1039964) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451654)

Go figure, and here I was thinking it was the subliminal messages embedded in the commercial that made me want to buy.

Re:In other words.... (1)

maximthemagnificent (847709) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450144)

>> So, in short, they are considering if the item is worth the asking price? That actually sounds a lot like a rational thought process to me.

It seems as if they ignored the fact that people value money directly, rather
than having to translate it into items that the money could be used to buy at some
later date for the sake of comparison. I conciously debate between the pleasure of
ownership vs. the pain of parting with the cash all the time, and I didn't need an MRI
to tell me that!

On a related note, this strikes me as one of those "cold is the absence of heat" observations.
My personal favorite is the "power of negative thought". It's not that thinking positively
boosts your immune system beyond what is normally possible, but rather than thinking
negatively degrades it from what should be the norm. That's my theory, anyway.

In case you were wondering, I believe the glass is at 50% of it's capacity.

Maxim

Re:In other words.... (1)

siwelwerd (869956) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450312)

I'd also think that the more gratification you could get later would make it more painful to fork over the cash for something else now. Doesn't seem to me that their two comparisons are unrelated at all.

Conspiracy? (5, Interesting)

cheftw (996831) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449034)

Is today Philip K Dick http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_k_dick [wikipedia.org] day or what? http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/01/ 03/1829258 [slashdot.org]

Re:Conspiracy? (2, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449258)

Who modded this off-topic? The title is indeed a clear reference to Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly [amazon.com] . As Dick was possibly schizophrenic and much of his work was about human perception and possible alternative functionings of the brain, it makes sense. The parent should've been modded up as informative.

Is this Philip K. Dick day? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17449052)

Did I miss it? What's next... Slashdot story on immigration visas titled "Minority Import"?

Proof at last (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17449390)

We always knew Slashdot was full of Dicks. Today's titles prove it!

Re:Is this Philip K. Dick day? (3, Funny)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450090)

Other upcoming stories:

The Wiiplayers of Titan - A precog and a telepath attempt to figure out the supply chain so they can get their hands on a Wii.

We Can Build You a Border Fence - A robotic Abraham Lincoln gets tired of the immigration debate and builds the border fence himself.

Udik - A story on Jack Thompson and his video game crusade.

The Three Video Game Consoles of Paler Eldritch - An indepth comparison of the Wii, PS3, and XBox 360.

Wal-Mart Can Remember it for You Wholesale - A short piece on Wal-Mart's new vacation package sales plan.

Re:Is this Philip K. Dick day? (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451788)

OK, I see where this thread is going.

I Hope I Shall Upgrade Soon - A lame blogspam about Apple fanboys whining that they can't upgrading a Mac with an officially unsupported processor.

The Man in the Low-High Byte Order - A detailed technical article discussing the differences of standard byte orders in different architectures, and the challenges it presents when communicating across such devices.

Solar Storm Lottery - Alarmist story about a possible solar storm which could endanger Earth.

Beyond Lies the Web 2.0 - Yet another story about how Web 2.0 is the huge thing that will change everything we know about the internet.

Re:Is this Philip K. Dick day? (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450300)

Dick day is every day on /.

Re:Is this Philip K. Dick day? (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451482)

It probably is... somebody get this [slashdot.org] guy a Hallmark card or something.

Well...duh. (2, Insightful)

O'Laochdha (962474) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449056)

I mean, when you're considering whether to buy something out of the ordinary, do you think "but I could spend this money on something else!" No, you think "but I'll have less/no pocket money left..." Maybe then the other things come to mind, but the first thought is that you'll have a smaller surplus. On some level, the first may be why you want more money, but it isn't the first thing you think of. This isn't some hidden mechanism of our brains; it's pretty intuitive.

Re:Well...duh. (1)

chrwei (771689) | more than 7 years ago | (#17452596)

i think you missed the point. the point is not that they figured out how poeple make purchasing descisions, but that they figured our what parts of the brain are involved and what the process looks like under MRI. it's not "how to make descisions", it's "how does the brain allow/enable someone to make the descision" which is a bit different a question.

Is it just my imagination... (1)

Kelson (129150) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449076)

Or am I seeing a pattern in today's story titles?

That explains desire for free items (3, Insightful)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449106)

If the brain doesn't have to worry about forking over cash, that explains why free items are so ridiculously popular... even something that people would sign away their privacy or credit to get, like free t-shirt for credit card apps that you see all over any college campus.

Re:That explains desire for free items (3, Interesting)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449996)

Well, really, most people who sign up for credit cards in order to get the free handouts are doing so because they already know their credit is sub-par, so they feel they've got nothing to lose.

I remember back when I was in college, I basically had no credit info on file. I was a "ghost" in the machine, essentially. I was living in an apartment with a roommate who got the place under their name and info, so there was no record of me paying rent. I bought my first car, used, with a personal check - so again, no car loan. Nobody would issue me a credit card, because I was too uncertain of a risk. Therefore, when I went to a hockey game and was offered the "free t-shirt" with the team logo on it for applying for some VISA card, sure - I did it! Who cares? I knew I'd get turned down, but I got a free shirt for 2 minutes of my time filling out the form.

Re:That explains desire for free items (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17451542)

I knew I'd get turned down, but I got a free shirt for 2 minutes of my time filling out the form.

These days you most likely WON'T get turned down. The mindset seems to have switched from "Who's trustworthy enough to have our card" to "Who can we change into an indentured servant today?"

I'm not sure that all of it... (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451810)

I'm not sure that is all of it for most people though. I have seen a dozen guys that all make between $60k and $160k, waiting for 15 minutes in line for a free tee shirt or pen.

Re:That explains desire for free items (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450130)

If the brain doesn't have to worry about forking over cash, that explains why free items are so ridiculously popular... even something that people would sign away their privacy or credit to get, like free t-shirt for credit card apps that you see all over any college campus.

I think that is more adequately explained by human stupidity... There is clearly a cost to handing over your personal data. I don't want blizzards of junk mail to descend upon me, so I don't even use my home address anywhere. These people just haven't taken the time to think about the results of their actions, thus their brain is unable to make the cost/benefit comparison; since they haven't thought rationally about the cost, it seems that there is none (but for some time which college students typically have in abundance, save for certain times of year.)

Re:That explains desire for free items (1)

Chasqui (601659) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451332)

>There is clearly a cost to handing over your personal data. This is why you fill in the forms with someone else's personal data ;)

always pay cash! (3, Informative)

coyote-san (38515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449108)

This is why the financial advice that you always pay cash, not by check or credit card, helps you keep within your budget. I seem to recall that people cut expenses by 30% or so once they started forking over 2-3 $20s for dinner with a friend instead of a little piece of plastic.

Re:always pay cash! (1)

skeevy (926052) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449126)

In fact, that's covered in the article: "The results can explain the growing tendency of consumers to overspend when purchasing items with credit cards instead of cash, because consumers do not immediately pay for items charged to credit cards and the "pain" of the potential loss is minimized."

Re:always pay cash! (1)

coyote-san (38515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449424)

Yes, but that's just a scientific explanation for a long-known behavior, and it sounds like the study just showed that everyone does it the pleasure/pain analysis unconsciously. Some of us just raise the pain level a bit.

I was shocked when I started doing this five years ago or so, and now the only places I use credit cards (or even retail checks) are situations where my behavior wouldn't be changed (e.g., at gas stations) and when it's a big ticket item and I want the legal protection credit cards provide.

Re:always pay cash! (2, Insightful)

WhyDoYouWantToKnow (1039964) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450266)

Isn't that one of the precepts of science? To give explanations for long-known behaviors.

RE: "I sometimes wonder if god's just a mean kid." (1)

Dareth (47614) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450980)

What if our whole Universe is just God's equivalent of an 8th grade project and he got a D-?
To be fair he did work a whole week on it, well there was that seventh day he rested.

Re: "I sometimes wonder if god's just a mean kid." (2, Insightful)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451374)

... God's equivalent of an 8th grade project and he got a D-?

Who is qualified to rate God's work?

Re: "I sometimes wonder if god's just a mean kid." (1)

WhyDoYouWantToKnow (1039964) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451592)

well there was that seventh day he rested

Yep, and in the words of Mr Strickland.

"You're a slacker! You remind me of your father when he went here. He was a slacker, too."

Re:always pay cash! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17451072)

Where I grew up (Canada) debit cards are widespread. So I associated using a card with immediately paying for something. Now when I use a debut ir credit card I have the same reaction: that I'm immediately paying for it. This limits my spending.

Re:always pay cash! (1)

coyote-san (38515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451458)

That's been discussed in the personal finance books. There's not the same tactile feedback -- you "know" you're spending $50 instead of $20, but you can't "feel" it. It's the same thing with checks -- you know you're paying $400 instead of $250 for a new monitor, but you aren't actually counting out over 50% more bills.

Re:always pay cash! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17451848)

The pain minimisation effect is probably even further exacerbated by the internet. Not only do you not need to hand over cash you might not even have to get out of bed and put on clothes to make a big purchase. You can do it without even being properly awake.

Re:always pay cash! (1)

Tchaik (21417) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451428)

I pay _everything_ I can with my CC. This way it's easy to know where my money went at the end of the year (no ATM fees, plus 1% cashback :-). I believe that people would spend less if they knew where they spend their money.

Depends on your mindset (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451530)

I tend to alamgamate my bills on one credit-card or bank account. I check it regularly, and watch that it stays under a certain amount with a two-week (pay) period. Yes, paying cash would work too, but one of the nice things about being connected is that I can constantly monitor my finances and adjust my spending accordingly, plus I gain travel points (others get cash-back etc) on my Visa, as well as various guarantees (backcharge is wonderful), that just don't come with cash. Of course I also always pay my balance on time. Always.

This part of my girlfriends brain (4, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449122)

Clearly becomes impervious to pain when she takes my credit card and goes shopping for shoes.

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (2, Insightful)

metlin (258108) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449506)

Maybe you should hand her hard cash instead of a piece of plastic. ;)

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17453700)

Better yet, give her a hard somthing else so she can't walk and doesn't need shoes.

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (1)

banuk (148382) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449664)

you know what you did wrong? was that you made the assumption that people that read slashdot can relate..... a better analogy would be "This part of my brain blearly becomes impervious to pain when I wait in line in the cold for a Nintendo Wii all night"

I call shenanigans! (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449684)

This is Slashdot. You have no girlfriend.

Re:I call shenanigans! (1)

cheesygrapes (927272) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451430)

That's why he was modded 5: funny.

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (1)

StaticEngine (135635) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449862)

No, it's still working, but your girlfriend has compartmentalized away the pain because it's not her cash she's worried about spending, it's yours. The fact that this causes her no distress means she hasn't unified the two of you into one entity with a common financial sense of well being.

In other words, she's using you, or at least your money, solely for her pleasure, with no foresight into the potential hazards this may cause down the road.

Don't worry though, at least you're not married, in which case if you forced her to stop, and she left you, she'd still get half of whatever you had left.

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (1)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 7 years ago | (#17452540)

Don't worry though, at least you're not married, in which case if you forced her to stop, and she left you, she'd still get half of whatever you had left.

Even then, he'd be better off.

She'd take half his money and leave.

Big deal.
Now she's taking all his money and staying.

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (1)

rblum (211213) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449878)

Hm. Think about it. It might be shoes actually cause pleasure for her. Lots of it, obviously. There's an application there - but this being slashdot, I've got no idea what it would be ;)

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (1)

Thuktun (221615) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450702)

Clearly becomes impervious to pain when she takes my credit card and goes shopping for shoes.
Probably not. She's just indicating that there's very little pain for her in spending YOUR money.

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450796)

How dare you talk about brains. You admit giving your girlfriend a credit card and letting her go shop for shoes with it? This is /. - you're not even suppose to admit you have a girlfriend.

Re:This part of my girlfriends brain (1)

metlin (258108) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451198)

This is Slashdot.

He's not supposed to have a brain, either. =)

Philip K. Dick day? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17449136)

Wow second Philip K. Dick reffrence in a row.

Philip K. Dick Day? (4, Funny)

hansamurai (907719) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449160)

First Do Electric Sheep Dream of Civil Rights? [slashdot.org] and now A Shopping-Scanner Darkly? Next article we'll undoubtedly be called Flow My Oily Tears, the Android Said.

Re:Philip K. Dick Day? (1)

dubbreak (623656) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449714)

Web 2.0, the seond variety.

Re:Philip K. Dick Day? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450468)

They should mix it up a little more, there are plenty of fairly famous works out there that could be used. For instance, "Ask Slashdot: Is Second Life Filling Up? Make Room! Make Room!" or "US States Unify Age of Childhood's End".

Re:Philip K. Dick Day? (2, Funny)

Jon Luckey (7563) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450824)

First Do Electric Sheep Dream of Civil Rights? and now A Shopping-Scanner Darkly? Next article we'll undoubtedly be called Flow My Oily Tears, the Android Said.

Hmm, why not BladeRIAAnner?

Create RFID like device thar runs off brainwaves! (1)

lrohrer (147725) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449178)

Its easy: Create an RFID device that can read brainwaves. It can be powered by the RF in the store.

Re:Create RFID like device thar runs off brainwave (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450552)

unless the RFID-like device can lower the price I'm not interested.

Who funded this research? (2, Insightful)

Da Rabid Duckie (731742) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449368)

Could it be Best Buy?

I can see it now: the information they learn from this study ends up in their sales manuals on how to upsell customers and make them purchase more than what the needed/wanted.

Joking, of course... but it could still happen.

Re:Who funded this research? (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449476)

Could it be Best Buy?

Possibly. And once they perfect a way to use this technology to deliver painful shocks unless you buy their crappy goods, they're going to change their name to "You Better Buy!".

Re:Who funded this research? (2, Insightful)

calderra (1034658) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449624)

upsell customers and make them purchase more than what the needed/wanted.
That's not a joke. Ever wonder why Best Buy employees are always so keen to sell you CD-Rs, or cables, or gift cards, or magazine subscriptions, or to get you to go online and fill out a survey, (ect)? Also, the razor model of profit for new electronic devices rests solely on this principle- sell a device at a loss or near cost, and make it back on all the extras you can sell to consumers. Modern business IS talking people into buying what they don't need/want.

See also: Telemarketing, SPAM, Publisher's Clearing House (although that's also technically a lottery)...

Re:Who funded this research? (1)

StarvingSE (875139) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451044)

Indeed. I used to work at Micro Center, and this is clearly where their business is headed. Sales people work on commission. They then changed the model so that you earn very little commission on the actual computer you sell, and a lot on the extras you sell with it. I don't work there anymore, but some friends of mine who do say that pretty soon they will earn next nothing on a computer system if it is sold without any extras.

No wonder... (1)

dr_strang (32799) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449398)

One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash.

Well, duh. That's why everyone's in credit card debt up to their eyeballs.

This study would work well with eBay... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17449558)

Show them all sorts of products with insanely low prices (new 19" LCDs from $99, 300 GB hard drives from $30, etc, etc) and see their reaction. Obviously, it will be positive. Then show them the (obviously) marked up shipping costs ($100 for the monitor, $70 for the hard drive). Then they should react negatively. Continue with the pattern until you find a point at which the person no longer is interested in low prices and considers looking at higher priced items to see if the shipping cost is normal.

Certainly would have interesting results...

University of Chicago's 9.4 Tesla MRI (0, Offtopic)

maynard (3337) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449616)

The University of Chicago has recently installed a 9.4 Tesla superconducting magnet for fMRI brain research. They claim this MRI can resolve down to individual neurons, and can even watch them fire. A press report is available here [chicagotribune.com] .

Wow... two PKD references in a row (1)

McNihil (612243) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449618)

ScuttleMonkey did you get PKD's work for christmas or something? ;-)

Get your tinfoil hats ready (1)

rhyre417 (919946) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449708)

Marketers are getting addicted to functional MRIs. You can protect yourself by shielding yourself from functional MRI technology :-)
But that won't be effective forever.
Seriously, though, just comparison shop before you leave for the store.
Make a list of what you need (essentials), and a separate list of what you want (luxuries).
Good luck, and be careful out there.

Re:Get your tinfoil hats ready (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449876)

You can protect yourself by shielding yourself from functional MRI technology

Are wrenches as effective against fMRI machines as they are against regular MRI machines? ;)

Re:Get your tinfoil hats ready (1)

venicebeach (702856) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450098)

Are wrenches as effective against fMRI machines as they are against regular MRI machines? ;)
I know you're joking, but I thought I would point out that it's not a different machine. Functional MRI uses the same MRI scanner, just different pulse sequences and techniques for processing the data. So yes, a wrench will do if you want to take out your local fMRI research lab, but please don't. :)

Re:Get your tinfoil hats ready (1)

ryanbaird (1046632) | more than 7 years ago | (#17453622)

Ahh yes, but then you fall into the classic trap. The fMRI Machines are subsidized by the tin foil producers.

Re:Get your tinfoil hats ready (1)

dogmatixpsych (786818) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450070)

Except that the machine will just rip that tin-foil hat off your head as you walk by and align all those spinning protons and measure the oxygenated hemoglobin in your brain anyway. You can't win dude, you can't win. :)

Reverse the process? (0)

Mogster (459037) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449718)

I'm not a neurologist (or any other kind of brain expert) but as I understand it the brain works on a series of electro-chemical reactions and extremely low frequency signals (feel free to correct me on how this works).

FTFA

The researchers found that when the participants were presented with the products, a subcortal brain region known as the nucleus accumbens that is associated with the anticipation of pleasure was activated. When the subjects were presented with prices that were excessive, two things happened: the brain region known as the insula was activated and a part of the brain associated with balancing gains versus losses -- the medial prefrontal cortex -- was deactivated.
Would it be possible to determine the frequencies which cause these regions to respond? Imagine retailers beaming a 'Buy me! Buy me!' signal straight into your brain.

*gets his tinfoil hat ready for the next trip to the mall*

Re:Reverse the process? (1)

venicebeach (702856) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450320)

What fMRI measures is changes in blood oxygenation, which we have good reason to believe is related to changes in brain activity. Oxygenated and deoxygenated blood have different magnetic properties, and this difference can be picked up with MRI. When a brain region becomes more active, the proportion of oxy to deoxy hemoglobin increases. This change in blood flow is quite slow, peaking about 6 seconds after the onset of neural activity. So fMRI is not able to detect the fast oscillatory patterns of neurons.

That can be achieved with EEG, which allows the recording of neuronal oscillations, and frequency analysis as you suggest. However EEG, performed at the scalp, is not going to pick up a deep structure like the nucleus accumbens.

Can the EEG be "entrained" by an external signal? Maybe to some degree, but not in a focal way, at least at this point. The best way we have for noninvasively affecting brain activity at this point is probably transcranial magnetic stimulation [wikipedia.org] , but that can't be done from a distance without your knowledge, and is still quite crude.

In short, for the time being the best way for Best Buy to manipulate you is through visual advertisement and by talking to you.

Spending others' money? (4, Interesting)

Dan Slotman (974474) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449720)

I can see two likely results from this phenomenon. First, impulse purchases will be for a relatively low amount of money. People are less reluctant to part with a couple bucks. Secondly, larger purchases will be planned. The planning allows the purchaser to justify releasing the larger amount money.

I'd like to know if this extends to purchases made with others' money. Does a company purchase agent's brain operate the same way? Several jokes have been made in earlier threads about women buying shoes with the posters' credit card--does this effect still occur when the purchaser isn't personally responsible for the spending?

The "pain" of forking over cash... (2, Funny)

turrican (55223) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449724)

I've stated for years that when writing out checks for bills and such that it "physically pains me" to do so.

I'll have to show this article to my significant other as scientific proof that I'm not just being dramatic when I say that.

scanners (1)

trb (8509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449772)

The scanners at the supermarket make enough errors when they're tallying my groceries. Why would I trust them to scan my brain?

One More Reason (0, Troll)

aquatone282 (905179) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449988)

. . . my tin-foil hat is looking better and better to you n00bs.

Hah!

Get your foil hats out guys (1)

Zex_Suik (951570) | more than 7 years ago | (#17450928)

I'm fairly certain this will be turned around and allow someone to broadcast a "buy" wave into a store. Now if we peeons could mass together and develop some sort of "pay wave" (trademarked by me) we could all be better off.

Re:Get your foil hats out guys (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17453926)

I'm fairly certain this will be turned around and allow someone to broadcast a "buy" wave into a store.

K-Mart started doing that years ago, it's called the Blue Light Special.

Economist Over-Think (2, Insightful)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451030)

One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash.

Well, duh. Only economists actually think about opportunity cost [wikipedia.org] . Everyone else considers spending vs. not spending. (Not to say they're wrong, since they're not, it's just that they have a tendency to over-estimate the depth of thought people put into economic decisions.)

Jumping to conclusions? (1)

SedgeFan (1046550) | more than 7 years ago | (#17451210)

"One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash." It doesn't seem the researchers actually tested whether buyers are weighing delayed gratification. All they demonstrated was that buyers consider whether the price for the item is fair; I'm sure that is what everyone does before they decide to purchase now, or something that will be purchased later. Also, is saying "here's 20 bucks for free, go and spend it in our elaborate experiement" really replicating the scenerio in which people make purchasing decisions? Don't we normally have to earn our money?

Re:Jumping to conclusions? (1)

Profound (50789) | more than 7 years ago | (#17452852)

Cash is fungible (which is kind of the point).

Easier Payment - More Sales? (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 7 years ago | (#17452082)

"One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash."

I guess this also means that making paying easier would result in more sales. I've long suspected this is true. Can anyone confirm or deny?

Re:Easier Payment - More Sales? (1)

Profound (50789) | more than 7 years ago | (#17452832)

Sure. Look at credit cards. Aside from making transactions easier and more abstract, they also increase consumption by allowing you to spend tomorrow's money today.

Assumed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17452760)

When I worked in sales, thats what I assumed was the case. When and if a person gave any indication the product wasn't worth the money, it was my job to convince them just the opposite. This would increase the relative value of the product to the customer making them more willing to purchase the product and earn me a big fat commission.

Makes sense to me (1)

noisyfont (919296) | more than 7 years ago | (#17453098)

I can't help but thing that this is the whole point of money. By this I mean, money as oppose to barter. In the case of barter you explicitly have to worry what you are getting in exchange for your goods and what else you could get with these same goods (not all exchange are equivalent), while in the case of money you only need to worry about your overall purchasing power and how it would be reduced. Without this abstraction all exchange would be so much more complicated. If you thought about everything else we could buy with that money you could potentially make wiser choices, but the effort involve (transactional cost) would end up being prohibitive. So in a way, money is a simple abstraction that allows us reduce transactional cost at the expense of the optimal solution (I stress that this is at our discretion for each transaction with money). In way, this is how I interprete their finding.

Please provide PayPal account. (1)

delire (809063) | more than 7 years ago | (#17453222)

..the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash.
What? Buying somehow induces pleasure, yet diminishing my personal capital overall somehow registers as some kind of pain? I think I get it..

Research of such prowess, of such searing insight, deserves every tax-paying dollar it can muster. We can only hope no one else somehow - oh, I don't know - builds a business around developing strategies to alleviate this apparent discomfort to our disadvantage.

Good work team, I think you're onto something. Whatever you do, don't stop now!
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