Study tracks brains of men viewing photos of women and money

Some men may be hardwired to favour money over the sight of a pretty face, Duke University neuroscientists have demonstrated.

Some men may be hardwired to favour money over the sight of a pretty face, Duke University neuroscientists have demonstrated.

When asked to pay to view photographs of attractive women, men mentally weigh the experience against cost – and some spend more for ogling rights than others.

What triggers the decision is a separate pleasure center in the brain that gauges the relative value of a given experience.

For some, money gets this brain region revving. For others, it is activated by a pleasant experience such as gazing moonily at women.

“For somebody who really doesn’t want to give up their money, the economic region may be putting a high value on the money and less on the experience or goods they get from it,” said Scott Huettel, director of Duke’s Center for Neuroeconomic Studies and one of the researchers. The group published its findings in Tuesday’s Journal of Neuroscience.

The team saw this decision-making process in action using brain scans on a group of 26 college-age men. While the men were undergoing an MRI, they viewed a random series of photographs depicting attractive women or small denominations of money.

For all the men, both types of photographs lit up a pleasure region of the brain. But a second, nearby area created big differences in the way the men subsequently behaved. This region, called the posterior ventromedial prefrontal cortex, was active when some men saw the money.

For others, when the photos of women appeared, the posterior ventromedial prefrontal cortex said, in essence, va-va-va-voom.

Then the men were asked to pay to see the photographs. The most attractive faces cost more.

The Duke team, using no fancy technology, could accurately predict who would spend and who would save. The savers were the men whose brains had lit up at the sight of money, and the spenders were those whose brains were sparked by the women.

“While we’re experiencing something, our brain is computing how much it’s worth to us now, and how much we’re willing to trade for that experience in the future,” Huettel said. Scientists don’t know whether this brain activity is genetic, or a learned pattern.

David Smith, a graduate student and researcher, said the findings could apply to addiction studies and research into compulsive behaviors. Future studies, he said, will involve women, although they’ll need a different stimulus.

Photos of men, evidently, don’t flip that brain switch quite so effectively for women.

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