Jan 16, 2007

'If it feels good, buy it'

John Tierney looks at the brain's shopping center.
I will not try to justify my need for the mood clock, the “Dodgeball” DVD, the desk-clip lamp and the smoothie maker. I would rather pin these choices on two culprits.

The first was my nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain with dopamine receptors that are activated when you experience or anticipate something pleasant, like making money or drinking something tasty. In the experimental subjects at Stanford, this region was activated when they first saw pictures of things they wanted to buy. My nucleus accumbens just happened to respond more strongly than the typical subject’s, so what else could I do? If it feels good, buy it.

The other culprit — the main villain, really — was my insula. This region of the brain is activated when you smell something bad, see a disgusting picture or anticipate a painful shock. It was typically activated in the brains of the other shoppers when they saw a price that seemed too high. I’d like to think of my insula as particularly stoic, the strong, silent type, but he’s probably just an oblivious slob.


The winter sales have my nucleus accumbens buzzing this month, beginning with a $150 pair of shoes I got for $25, a $200 purse I got for $65 and a coat (pictured above in grey; mine is red) I got for $100, which retails for $300. All of these items had my brain saying "At this price you can't afford not to buy," although I don't actually need any of them.

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