Brains Like To Keep It Real

Catherine Clabby

Text and images may be king on the Internet, but people in a position to buy seem to prefer the real thing
In this age of fierce competition between Internet marketing and traditional retail, merchants want to know: Which approach stirs potential customers most?
Experiments by neuroeconomist Antonio Rangel and his colleagues suggest that the old pop song chorus–“Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby”–might have it right.
The findings could be relevant to more than shopping, however. They may give insight into the ways our brains assign value in the computational activity that is human choice.
“Whether the stimuli are physically present or not really affects the values you assign and the choices you make,” says Rangel, a California Institute of Technology researcher who published the research results with his colleagues in the American Economic Review in September.