Washington, Apr 4 : Draping an attractive woman over the hood of a car in an advertisement really can help in boosting car sales, at least that's what the new study suggests.
According to a new study, alluring female posing by the merchandise can encourage a heterosexual man to purchase it.
The study, conducted by Stanford researchers, 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, study's lead author.
The study was based on data 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.
The research team 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 added.
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 dollars 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. 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. 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," Knutson said.
The study is published in NeuroReport.