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MRI: Rational Shopping Lasts Just 40 Minutes

November 25, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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New MRI research suggests that after 23 minutes of shopping, people begin to make choices with the emotional rather than the cognitive parts of their brain. And after 40 minutes, the brain stops making rational decisions entirely.

That could explain a lot.

Bangor University in Gwynedd, Wales, in the United Kingdom, is conducting the research in partnership with the British retail research company SBXL. Three multinational grocery and health care companies are financing it. Paul Mullins, PhD, senior lecturer in psychology at Bangor, explained what’s going on:

Using advanced brain imaging techniques, we hope to get a better understanding of how shoppers respond to special offers. This also gives us the chance to bring our research on decision making into a real world context, and we hope it will tell us a lot about how we respond to different types of competing information in the world around us.

Dr. Mullins was quoted in a university news release.

Bangor psychologists are putting subjects in a 3 tesla functional MRI scanner and asking them to simulate a supermarket shopping trip worth 80 pounds (about $129). While choosing from a list of items, they receive a wide range of promotions and special offers.

“We know from previous SBXL research that the brain behaves illogically when faced with the sort of information overload that shoppers are faced with in a typical supermarket,” said Phillip Adcock, managing director of SBXL. “Previous research has shown us that nearly 20 percent of shoppers are likely to put special offers in their basket even if they are more expensive than the normal product, and we know that nearly half of shoppers ignore buy-one-get-one-free items and only choose one.

“Now we have a reliable and scientific way of validating this research and understanding exactly what is happening in the brain during the weekly shop.”

So far, the lesson for consumers seems clear: never shop for more than 23 minutes.

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