Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Medicine Science

Valuable Objects Stimulate Brain More Than Junk 118

Roland Piquepaille writes "According to researchers at the University of California at San Diego, visual areas of our brain respond more to valuable objects than other ones. In other words, our brain has stronger reactions when we see a diamond ring than we look at junk. Similarly, our brain vision areas are more excited by a Ferrari than, say, a Tata new Nano car. In this holiday season, I'm sure you've received gifts that excited your brain — and others that you already want to resell on an auction site."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Valuable Objects Stimulate Brain More Than Junk

Comments Filter:
  • Sorting Mechanism (Score:5, Informative)

    by gbulmash ( 688770 ) * <semi_famous@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Friday December 26, 2008 @06:38PM (#26237151) Homepage Journal
    The thing to note here is that value remains subjective. The actual test didn't show subjects diamond rings or big houses. It showed them simple images of neutral value that then paid off in varying amounts when selected. It was the amount of the payoff that influenced the subject's perception of the object. An object that paid off at $10 generated a stronger response than an item that had paid off at $0.10.

    So the concept of a diamond ring registering more highly than junk depends on the "eye of the beholder." The images in the study were associated with receiving a reward. So a guy might not associate a diamond ring with a rewaed, but might see a pile of junk and think of all the fun he could have by building neat stuff with it.

    They talk about how this research may give insight into addiction, but I really think it's just a sorting mechanism. It's our way of training ourselves from experience how to pick the most likely target from the herd, sort the best fruits from the pile, etc., in the shortest possible time.
    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      I have to agree totally. To me a old piece of steel ( think antique tool passed down thru the family, with no real 'market value' ) is more valuable to ME then a shiny Ferrari.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Well sir, I would like to see the sort of chicks you can pick up with your antique family trowel. Wait, no I probably wouldn't.
      • Pretty much anything is valuable to some extent if you can find a buyer for it.
        • in other news, a shiny new Lamborghini stand out in a school parking lot. Seriously how is it news that something expensive (i.e. typically rare) stimulates the brain more. Anything that's rare, out of place, or new typically grabs more of our attention. It's a natural response from our neocortex.

    • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @06:55PM (#26237259) Homepage Journal

      Agreed. There's an old saying that says 'one man's junk is another man's treasure.' And it's 100% true. Try walking through a flea market sometime. Needless to say, most /.ers might go 'meh' at the piles of jewelry and coins laying on the tables, but when we get the used computer parts vendor, our eyes immediately start sorting out the good stuff -- the parts we have use for -- and the junk -- the stuff we'd never touch. The price doesn't matter so much -- value is entirely subjective. For example, I might not find any use for that pile of old Token Ring adapters, but a guy who works on IBM mainframes might.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by billcopc ( 196330 )

        I might not find any use for that pile of old Token Ring adapters, but a guy who works on IBM mainframes might

        False. A guy who worked on token-ring IBM mainframes would have long since killed himself in self-pity after one-too-many nights of "find the sputtering node".

        Good god, token ring was such a bastard system in hindsight. Thank god for point-to-point topology!

        • Well, I know you're (half) joking, but I really worked in a place about 10 years ago that still had IBM mainframes and some PC terminals hooked via token-ring.

          • Of course, their monthly hydro bill alone could probably cover the cost of a cheap PC server that can do everything the old mainframe does.

      • by rthille ( 8526 )

        Heh, I was reading and I got to Token Ring and I read it as Tolkien Ring. I thought, I'd totally take one of those "Tolkien Rings" :-)

      • by smithmc ( 451373 ) *

        Agreed. There's an old saying that says 'one man's junk is another man's treasure.' And it's 100% true.

        Absolutely. It's the very basis for the concept of a market economy. People can trade with each other because they value different things to different degrees. Otherwise, no one would have any incentive to exchange one thing for another.

    • I'm not sure exactly what you mean by sorting mechanism, but I'm thinking that these results suggest varying detail in encoding. It's already well known that we 'store' very little about the things we see, and largely employ categories and expectations when reconstructing memories. It would stand to reason that identifying something valuable is more useful than identifying the usual junk, and so more detail is stored for future comparison.

      Just my 2 cents worth of speculation...

      • now that I've actually RTFA:

        "Though it is too early to say how this relates to perception," said Serences, "it raises the intriguing possibility that we see things we value more clearly - much like the way the brain responds to a bright object versus a dimly lit one."

        Hope that clears up my bumbly explanation

      • Just my 2 cents worth of speculation...


    • The images in the study were associated with receiving a reward.

      Which amounts to simple behaviourism. Nothing new here.

    • by Jay L ( 74152 ) *

      That answers the questions I was about to ask: Did diamonds stimulate more than non-valuable shiny objects, was there a cultural bias, how did 100 years of "Diamonds are Forever" affect the results, etc...

    • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

      Sounds good and all, but historically, we've not hunted animals - herd animals, at least - on a "which one looks better" - ie, historically, we were not trophy hunters. That is a reasonably new occurrence in our societies. Historically (and even today, throughout most of the world and even where trophy hunting is common) hunters will take the least valuable animals - they hunt to provide food, yes, but also to cull the herd and sustain the food. They'll take the older, sickly animals to retain the health o

  • So would all people find a Ferrari more stimulating (neurologically speaking) than a Nano or does it depend on culture?

    If it is inbuilt and not a cultural difference perhaps it is possible to extrapolate an idealised design of an object people will perceive as 'valuable'. Could be useful for marketing purposes.

    • If it is inbuilt and not a cultural difference perhaps it is possible to extrapolate an idealised design of an object people will perceive as 'valuable'.

      I believe we call very close approximations to this ideal "art."

      • Actually, we call them "cash incentives." TFA states that the values of objects (or, rather, pictures of said objects) were directly manipulated by associating monetary rewards with each one.
    • I live in Los Angeles, not far from Beverly Hills and all that. Around here Ferraris are about as common as palmtrees. I think I'd pay a lot more attention if I saw a Tata Nano.

      But to me they are about equally valuable; I wouldn't want either.
    • This study can only deal with perceived value. If you showed a picture of a diamond and then told the subject it was a cubic zirconium, the level of stimulation would change, even though it's the same picture.
  • also works with... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ctk76 ( 531418 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @06:44PM (#26237195)
    slashdot headlines... informative and interesting ones stimulate my brain far more than non-news events that just clutter the main page.
    • About a year back, I noticed that almost ALL of the stories on the main page were (as far as I was concerned) non-news events that just cluttered the main page. I had actually been considering giving up reading slashdot. Instead, I changed my preferences to put EVERYTHING from the sections on the main page. I have a much more enjoyable slashdot experience now.

    • When I read the title I was very eager to comment on wrongfulness of this research, as I'm convinced that valuable objects stimulate my junk more than my brain. I mean, cheap stuff works too, but doesn't inspire much I guess.
  • This is important news! I think these scientists should be commended for their efforts. Just having the audacity to pursue funding for such an outrageous and fringe topic is surely a rarity in scientists these days. After all their hard work it must be gratifying to have their results come to such a clear and decisive conclusion that will likely impact humankind for generations. Bravo!

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by routerl ( 976394 )
      Exactly! And while we're being sarcastic, let's chastise all those people who spent years studying fruit flies. This is how science works, buddy. Slow, seemingly insignificant steps following well-established research programs, only some of which possibly lead to larger discoveries in the future.
      • I'm aware of how science works. All the little steps add up to huge advancements.

        I'd posit that things have value because we desire them, rather than we want things because they are valuable. Maybe that viewpoint stems from thinking too much of economies these days.

      • And a bit shout out to the lads and lasses working in the field of logical fallacies. False analogies FTW!
        • by routerl ( 976394 )
          @SoupGuru: Some things obviously have intrinsic value (e.g. food and water) whereas other things obviously have value assigned to them by different groups (e.g. sports cars). This study had to do with the actual neural response to perceived value, which makes its result non-trivial, regardless of how well it meshes with common-sense.

          @Rogerborg: I don't really get what you're calling a "false analogy", but I'm assuming you meant my comparing the parent's attitude to Palin's absurd comments about genetic r
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

    does it have to do with quality?
    Would a picture of say an inexpensive home stimulate a persons brain more or less than say an image of a sports car?
    Or what about a run of the mill airliner to say a Ferrari?

    • I suppose the comments above noting how the experiment was done weren't there (or at least weren't scored so high) when you commented, and of course, who RTFAs? Well, I RTFAed (acronyms in past tense, yay!), and you... obviously didn't.

      What they did is show people images, some of which were worth 10 cents (for a total of $10 if you got them all right), some of which were worth nothing.

      Then they used an MRI on the volunteers while having them review the images and found those images that had been associated

  • by MindlessAutomata ( 1282944 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @06:48PM (#26237215)

    Humans pay more attention to more salient or novel stimuli. Something valuable, or more desired, is going to pop out.

    In evolutionary terms, food sources that were more scarce--food 'worth' more, you can say--would definitely demand more attention that random vegetable matter, be it prey or fruits or so on. Same thing with water, or more attractive mates, or perhaps good sources of shelter, or so on.

    The result of this experiment is entirely what you would expect.

    • by lawpoop ( 604919 )
      This doesn't explain attraction to gold, jewelry, ornate decorations, sunsets, pretty birds, etc. None of these seem to have any immediate survival value, but people spend a lot of time decorating, even the poorest of people.
  • Well, that's interesting. It's as if our brains spend more effort when the task is to determine how valuable something is to us, as opposed to determining how worthless it is. It seems obvious, and probably is, but still, it shows that we treat "value" as more important to precisely define, as "lack of value."

    If something is junk, it makes no sense to waste time thinking about just how devoid of value is actually is.

  • I would guess that this is part of brain formation, as the brain learns what is valuable and what is not. I would expect that the same results would NOT be found in younger brains.

  •   How, exactly, did they determine what qualifies as "junk" and what doesn't? Monetary rewards? Doesn't that invalidate their experiment by restricting it to people who regard money as a means to an end?


    • The value was set via the study; some objects were associated with a higher payoff than others. In other words, they separated out the question of what makes something valuable and studied what happened once objects were already invested with differential monetary values. So they tried at least to control for the issue raised in your question.

      • by shadowbearer ( 554144 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @07:54PM (#26237573) Homepage Journal

          What about objects that are "valuable" to people without having any monetary value? Art, music... while some people put monetary value on those objects, I doubt that most people do.

          As an example, I have a portrait of myself done by an artist in a bar some years ago; it was done freely and given freely, yet I consider it one of the most "valuable" objects I own. I also have a considerable rock collection - none of it collected for any monetary value, but just for my memories of the trip I collected it on. I daresay many people have similar.

          There are an awful lot of things the people own that have "sentimental" value - value only to themselves, for their own reasons. Putting a monetary value on objects has to have skewed their results considerably.

          I'm no psych researcher, this is just my opinion... which isn't worth much to anyone but me, honestly ;)


        • Yeah, "valuable objects" stimulate me more than some guy's junk.

          Mmm. Pretty things.
      •   I guess what I'm really asking is aren't they really finding out how societal and cultural mores affect people, more than how "objects" in general stimulate the brain?

          Enlighten me...


  • You know Raccoons and Retards are attracted to shiny objects.
  • This looks like the next in the ongoing series of "fMRI results of the week", but I was already quite sure about this without fMRI because I know how the notion of value maps onto the realm of images of women.
  • Value means that something is inherently important or has become important through previous experience and reinforcement. The source of "value" is irrelevant; anything that is important is so because the experience has primed us to respond. That the brain should reflect such activity is not only trivial, it's well established.

    TFA does not examine "value". It examines the effect of reinforcement to an arbitrary choice to subsequent choices. The paradigm used is a "go-no go" design. There's nothing in the stu

    • Particularly egregious is the author's attempt to connect this poorly designed research to addiction. If this held, then the more something costs the more addictive it should be, and the less valuable it is the less addictive: free heroin is not habit forming.

      On the contrary, heroin is addictive because it directly stimulates reward pathways, instead of using a secondary reinforcer (such as money). The researchers used money because it's a relatively universal secondary reinforcer, which is easier and mor

  • by glitch23 ( 557124 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @07:45PM (#26237541)

    In this holiday season, I'm sure you've received gifts that excited your brain -- and others that you already want to resell on an auction site."

    Actually I received gifts for Christmas, not this holiday season, you insensitive clod! We have holidays all year round. Why should Christmas be recast as an entire holiday season (gift giving is irrelevant as far as calling it a holiday season) in its own right, other than for being able to ignore its existence by not calling it by name?

    Mod me down if you want but only if you have good reason to; disagreement is not a valid reason. If this comment wasn't geared toward Christmas then it shouldn't have been posted the day after but instead near Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, but no one ever pays attention to those holidays anyway, at least, the retailers don't pay attention to them when they advertise sales. Their excuse for using "holiday season" is to falsely state their inclusion of other holidays. I guess lies don't matter as long as you turn a profit. What's your excuse for using "holiday season"?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dltaylor ( 7510 )

      The "holiday season" around the winter solstice and its attendant celebrations pre-date Jesus by thousands of years.

      Christmas, unlike Easter, was a minor feast until the Roman Catholic Church decided to do something about all the former pagans who still carried on many of their former traditions, rather than contributing all of their wealth to the Church. Whether many of those older traditions included gift giving is hard to say since the Church's agents tended to destroy pagan writing and other artifacts

      • Christmas, unlike Easter, was a minor feast until the Roman Catholic Church decided to do something about all the former pagans who still carried on many of their former traditions

        Similarly, Hanukkah was a pretty minor holiday but because of its proximity to christmas it has become significantly more recognized. Thus the "holiday season" is appropriate as a term to refer to the time roughly from Diwali through Chinese new year. That range will also cover Eid al-Adha (but not Eid al-Fitr).

        After all it is a season of holidays, not just a single holiday.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Veggiesama ( 1203068 )

      Even fanatical Christians celebrate New Year's and Christmas Eve, so "holiday season" is an accurate term to describe a number of separate single days usually associated with revelry and gift-giving. Some people even use these days for traveling and vacationing.

      Since my birthday also falls in December, and since we got off school for weeks at a time, as a child I assumed the whole month of December was one big holiday.

      Notice: I didn't even have to talk about the winter solstice, Roman festivals, Jews, Afric

      • Even fanatical Christians celebrate New Year's and Christmas Eve, so "holiday season" is an accurate term to describe a number of separate single days usually associated with revelry and gift-giving. Some people even use these days for traveling and vacationing.

        Whatever happened to "Merry Christmas *and* a Happy New Year"? Just because it is an accurate term doesn't mean it is a good one. There was nothing wrong with the original term and it acknowledged that Christmas actually still exists despite how much secularists hate it. And again, we have 2 holidays in January, 1 in February, another in March and so on. Why is this time of year only referred to as "holiday season"? The average holiday count is still 1 per month. The reason? It is to gradually remove the ex

        • Is there really a secular movement against Christmas in (I'm guessing) America? I'm extremely a-religious as are most of my associates but I like christmas apart from the nauseating carols and rampant commercialism. Of course, I'm from New Zealand in the crazy southern hemisphere where we have a barbecue and play cricket for christmas. You can pry my mid-summer holidays from my cold dead hands!

          I assumed the 'holiday season' nonsense was political correctness run wild, what with the dredging up of non-christ

        • ...'Prospero Ano Nuevo'. (won't permit the tilde)
  • "our brain has stronger reactions when we see a diamond ring than we look at junk."

    I get off more at a computer swap meet looking at junk hardware than going to De Beers any day of the week, I guess it all depends on who they test.
  • The human response to an object is based on something. It exists, so it pretty much has to be, right? But *what* is it based on? Where do the "values" come from when we see an object? Are they the result of a conscious decision, based on a series of choices, derived from the ability to think and choose and also based on memories of the past? Or are these values simply "embedded" into us as we experience things, and experienced again in their triggering upon the sight of such objects?

    To put it a differe

  • This goes into the pile of obvious scientific discoveries.

    Like these notable scientific discoveries:
    1. Drunk women are more amorous.
    2. Eating Chocolate makes us feel better.
    3. People with well proportioned faces are better looking.

  • It's news that valuable objects stimulate my girlfriend's brain more than my junk?

  • You must have seen that on []. :) Which is a really great website! Full of interesting videos.
  • duh (Score:3, Funny)

    by tabby ( 592506 ) on Friday December 26, 2008 @08:34PM (#26237833) Homepage

    So they are telling us that we are easily dis

    Look! A sparkly thingy!

  • So this is why Mac users have such larger brains than Windows users!

  • So it wasn't The One Ring's fault after all of that effort! It was the people!

    Sméagol had it right, the ring was my precious!!!

  • I think it's the other way around: we place a high "intrinsic" value on certain objects because they stimulate our brains the way they do. Otherwise why should compressed carbon or base metals be worth more or less than anything else? Iron is a more useful metal than gold or silver for making tools, and you can't burn diamonds to keep warm in the winter.
  • Congratulations - they've discovered GREED. Film at 11.

  • No this is on topic, for me I sense more value in Linux and it stimulates my brain (thinking of the cool things I can do with it)

    Same could go for some fan of Windows compared to other OSs or for that matter OS X compared to the other two.

    Value is in the mind of the beholder. For those car analogies I think uniqueness would rate just as high say a $150,000 car vs a genuine DeLoerean. It's all subjective.

    I think A Yugo would likely stimulate the brains of people in a remote region that has very little inte

  • It has been known for decades that the brain responds to visual images of highly desirable things much more strongly than it does to images of ordinary things.

    What would have been news is if this "study" had NOT gotten the results that it did.
  • If expensive items stimulate our mnds much more than junk, Wynona Ryder must be stimulated as hell.
  • I'm now working on the obvious complementary study, "Sexy Objects Stimulate Junk More Than Brain." Funding please!
  • They really need a second experiment, to see if it's evaluated value or initial reaction that stimulates most. IE: Instead of a picture of a real Ferrari, they should have a picture of a model. Good enough that it looks right at first glance, but closer evaluation reveals the differences. Similarly, replace the diamond ring with a glass and gold-plated rip-off.

    Then, to really mix things up, replace the 'junk' with valuable stuff which might appear junk at first glance. You need stuff that, when you think ab

  • Objects that stimulate the brain the most are wanted by individuals the most. Objects wanted by most are more valuable.

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker