A scarcity mindset alters neural processing underlying consumer decision making
until further notice
Number of pages
SourceProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 116, 24, (2019), pp. 11699-11704
Article / Letter to editor
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PI Group Decision Neuroscience
SW OZ BSI BO
SW OZ BSI SCP
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA
Subject140 000 Decision neuroscience; Behaviour Change and Well-being
How poverty impacts decision making is a vitally important societal question. Recent influential theories proposed that altered decision making by the poor might be explained by a "scarcity" mindset. Here, we created an experimental manipulation which allowed us to investigate how consumer decisions and their neural processes are affected by scarcity, while circumventing potential confounds associated with comparing individuals with high and low income. Neuroimaging results suggest that a scarcity mindset affects neural mechanisms underlying goal-directed decision making, and that the effects of scarcity are largest when they are compared with previous situations when resources were abundant. The current findings contribute to a greater understanding of the mechanisms by which limited resources affect decision making. Not having enough of what one needs has long been shown to have detrimental consequences for decision making. Recent work suggests that the experience of insufficient resources can create a "scarcity" mindset; increasing attention toward the scarce resource itself, but at the cost of attention for unrelated aspects. To investigate the effects of a scarcity mindset on consumer choice behavior, as well as its underlying neural mechanisms, we used an experimental manipulation to induce both a scarcity and an abundance mindset within participants and examined the effects of both mindsets on participants' willingness to pay for familiar food items while being scanned using fMRI. Results demonstrated that a scarcity mindset affects neural mechanisms related to consumer decision making. When in a scarcity mindset compared with an abundance mindset, participants had increased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a region often implicated in valuation processes. Moreover, again compared with abundance, a scarcity mindset decreased activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area well known for its role in goal-directed choice. This effect was predominant in the group of participants who experienced scarcity following abundance, suggesting that the effects of scarcity are largest when they are compared with previous situations when resources were plentiful. More broadly, these data suggest a potential neural locus for a scarcity mindset and demonstrate how these changes in brain activity might underlie goal-directed decision making.
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