Monday, May 22, 2006

The pleasures and pains of information about the future.

Berns et al show that regions of the brain activated by pain are also activated by the anticipation of pain, and that some experimental subjects choose to receive an anticipated electrical shock sooner rather than later, to "get it over with," even when told the shock will be larger than the anticipated one.

It is also known that brain regions activated by pleasure are also activated by anticipation of pleasure, and subjects will frequently defer a desired outcome to prolong the pleasure of anticipation. These real behaviors are the exact opposite of those in many economic models, which assume that people will defer negative outcomes and accelerated desired ones.

A review by Loewenstein highlights varied studies on the utility of information, and how emotional factors lead people to desire or avoid it.

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